Working on the basis that Lego is the king of all toys, and robots are brilliant, I would say that the Mindstorms series of buildable and programmable Lego robots is as cool as “toys” get. But there’s a new, fresher-faced kid on the block (apologies, bad pun). Tinkerbots are every bit as customizable and intelligent as Lego’s series of hugely popular kits, but where Mindstorms provide fun through serious roboteering, the German-designed Tinkerbots are, first and foremost, meant to be playful.
Currently being crowdfunded into retail reality, Tinkerbots will come in a number of preset kits (dog, car, etc.), each pre-programmed with a set of movements. As with Mindstorms, though, the fun is in the improvisation. Basically, as long as you include the red “Power Brain” cube — containing an Arduino microcontroller, a Bluetooth transceiver, a set of accelerometers, and a USB port — you can use the rest of the supplied blocks to create anything you like, with twister and pivot cubes providing movement. All of these blocks are Lego-compatible, too.
But the best fun starts once you hit the control block’s record button. For the next twenty seconds, the Tinkerbot — in whatever form you’ve built it — will sense every manipulation you make, and store it. Just as with a tape recorder, the play button then makes the Tinkerbot re-enact those movements, meaning you can have a Tinkerbot dog jumping or Tinkerbot caterpillars crawling. The Tinkerbots team are also working on an app which will allow you both to control your Tinkerbot and program the blocks, raising the possibility of some amazing creations.
While Mindstorms will probably be the best serious robotics kits for some time to come, I reckon the fun of Tinkerbots will be very popular — especially given that the Indiegogo campaign has already smashed past its $100,000 goal. If all goes well, we can expect to see awesome little ‘bots on sale by next year.