Multiplo and the Future of Open Robotics

Our friends at Minibloq have conquered a new goal -- bringing robotics to the masses!

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There's nothing that excites us more than people with new ideas -- a while back we started a curated Kickstarter page just to give shout-outs to some that we think have the most potential. One of our favorites lately comes from our friends at Minibloq. After successfully creating the open source graphical programming environment, they decided to turn their attention to a truly open-source mechanics platform, and thus Multiplo was born. 


As it turns out, we aren't the only ones who think the world needs easier access to a simple robotics platform; their Kickstarter was fully funded in two days, and by the time the campaign ended last Monday, they had reached 880% of their goal. Their kit offers all the basic components you need to build a robot. There is no need to program, study a wiring diagram or buy tools, and there's no soldering or protoboard needed. You can build a simple robot in about 45 minutes, but it also allows you to add interchangeable and customizable parts to create your own robot and experiment with different concepts and functions. The options this kit opens up for educators and schools are significant, and last week we talked to Julian da Silva Gillig, one of the creators of Multiplo, about the idea behind this innovative, accessible system. 
"Perhaps the most important feature of Multiplo is that it has been designed to be an open source and 'FabLab compatible' building system," da Silva Gillig said. "We think there was a gap in the market, because although there is already good open source software, and good open source electronics for DIY robotics, there is a lack of open source mechanical building systems. This means that we will release all the blueprints for the mechanical parts (very soon after the Kickstarter campaign ends), but it also means that these parts were specifically designed to be able to be manufactured with cheap tools, and not require injection or extrusion moulds or other expensive processes."
The company will offer both the full kits and the mechanical-only kits, which means more advanced users can choose to supplement the robotics framework with their own controllers. Around here, this means we could use our Serial Controlled Motor Driver, and Multiplo has already used our XBee Explorer on some of their creations. 
"Multiplo kits feature an Arduino-compatible controller -- called DuinoBot -- specially designed to work with mobile robots, and with some nice features that make it easier to be used in the classroom," da Silva Gillig said. "So you can program the DuinoBot not just with Minibloq, but also with the Arduino IDE. Even more: Multiplo mechanics can be purchased separately, or even made by the users in a 3D-printer, a laser cutter or a small home CNC machine. So those users who already own an Arduino and some motor shields can use their own electronics with these mechanical parts."
The potential to reach a much wider audience and give them easy access to a simple-to-use robotics system is something we really believe in, and we're stoked someone else made this their priority too! Great job, Multiplo -- we can't wait to see what people (including us) do with your kit!

Comments 10 comments

  • L1011 / about 12 years ago * / 4

    I have a new idea, how about instead of dumbing down the hobby we instead challenge the mass of idiots in the populace to expend more brain power? Another thing, this is not a new idea, many years ago, a company called LEGO did this!

    • aruisdante / about 12 years ago / 5

      That's a bit harsh.

      First let me preface my response by saying that I'm currently a Masters candidate at WPI in Robotics Engineering, and also went through their BS program for my undergrad in both RBE and Mech-Eng. So I'm speaking from what I've seen in my experiences both academically and professionally.

      The concept of making robotics 'more open' from a barrier to entry standpoint is a bit of a tricky point. There is a fine line between making something simple enough that you get people interested in it that otherwise might not give it a try, and so simple that people that really have no business in the field think they will be good at something they just do not have the mind for. When I say 'don't have the mind for' I don't mean they are not intelligent. Just that they do not have a thought process conducive to succeeding in the robotics field. Just like I do not have the mind to compose a symphony or write the lyrics to a song or write a treaties on the history of ancient Rome. This is a HUGE problem for WPI's Robotics program. In the lower level RBE classes routinely more than 2/3rds of the class cannot pass the exams and should by all rights fail the course. And these aren't 'hard' exams. They're basic programming (variables, for-loops, binary operations, etc), electrical engineering (KCL and KVL) and mechanical engineering (physics 1 stuff, statics) questions that anyone who is even remotely serious about doing this as more than a hobby should be able to understand. But that puts academia in a bit of a tough place... you cannot fail 2/3rds of your class, if you do so you won't have a program for very much longer.

      So systems like this need to be careful. If they just want to be used as a tool for hobbyists, fine. But if they want to be serious educational tools, they can't abstract away the foundations of the theory behind the how and why so much that people come out of it believing that to be a successful roboticist you really only need to know how to stick blocks together in a GUI and cobble things together with a screw-driver.

      As for Lego, I wouldn't really call that the same class as this system could be. Lego is incredibly restrictive in what it lets you do. Yes, you can hack it to let you write programs in C++, but the level of knowledge required to do so makes it prohibitive as an early education tool, and it's not officially supported by Lego. Middle/Highschools, who I imagine are the primary targets of a system like this, are not going to do anything that isn't officially supported by the manufacturer, they simply don't have the time, staff or budget. I'm all for a system that wants to make robotics attractive and lower the barrier of entry while at the same time serves to genuinely educate people about robotics theory and applications.

    • Member #91276 / about 12 years ago / 3

      Go do it then.

  • Member #257730 / about 12 years ago / 4

    Hi, my congrats to the Multiplo team for their wonderful project! We have started a similar campaign, our robots are open source too and are based on an aluminium chassis.

  • I am new in this field. Just learning but am enchanted by you electronic people....... thank you for this guys!!

  • Ted M / about 12 years ago / 1

    Too bad this is a kickstarter and not a real product. It looks interesting though.

    • juliandasilva / about 12 years ago / 1

      Thanks! But it is a real product. After the rewards has been delivered, kits, spare parts and sensors will be available for purchasing. Also, the blueprints, schs, soft and documentation will be soon released with sources for free.

      • Ted M / about 12 years ago / 1

        Awesome, can't wait to see it for sale! Hope we don't have to wait too long -- some kickstarters seem to take forever (a big downside for me, and why I don't usually participate in kickstarter anymore).

  • TeslaFan / about 12 years ago / 1

    Nice! I love the product these guys have put out: An Open Source, programmable in C/C++ robot kit. And, if you have any access to personal manufacturing technology like FabLab, or even a 3D printer, you can extend the kits to suit your own imagination. I wish we had stuff like this when I was a kid!

  • I want to build a guitar pickup and an according to pete is made. I think of building an Arduino robot, you make a post. Are you mind readers?

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