Robotics Toy to Teach Computational Thinking about Complex Systems

Modular Robotics is pleased to announce the award of a $486,906 grant from the US National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR Phase II) program, for the project, “Learning About Complexity through Programming Modular Robots”.

Modular Robotics has developed Cubelets, a toy that fosters computational thinking about complex systems. Cubelets is a modular construction kit for learning how local behaviors can produce global effects. The kit is simple to use: Children design and build robots by snapping together blocks. No explicit programming is needed because the robot’s behavior is a direct result of the way the blocks are assembled. What’s unique about Cubelets is that no central “brain” controls the robot; rather, control is distributed throughout its blocks. As children gain sophistication designing robots they can reprogram individual block behaviors using a screen based programming environment on a personal computer or mobile phone. By designing and building complex systems children will experience a variety of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts.

Modular Robotics is a spin-off company founded in 2008 by Carnegie Mellon University professor Mark D Gross and his former PhD student Eric Schweikardt, based on Schweikardt’s doctoral work. The project began under an NSF grant to investigate construction kit toys and craft activities enabled by new computational technologies. The company received seed funding from CMU’s Office of Technology Transfer, as well as an earlier Phase I grant from the National Science Foundation. Modular Robotics intends to release Cubelets in three phases: first to science centers and children’s museums, then to a core community of tech-savvy enthusiasts, and finally to the public through retail channels. The first kits are scheduled to come to market later this year.

Eric Schweikardt