Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Trashbots: Inexpensive Robotics Kits for Students

Trashbots Aims to Bring Inexpensive Robotics Kits to Students

In remote and impoverished areas of the world, teaching children science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM skills can involve a lot of expensive resources.

It requires computers, labs, buildings, high-speed Internet, power supplies, and pricey robotics kits with trained instructors.

That’s a problem Rohit and Sidharth Srinivasan saw first-hand during four trips to three Indian orphanages from 2013 to 2016 to teach kids STEM skills. They went on the trips with the Austin-based Miracle Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports orphans worldwide.

And Paul Austin, ex-chief architect of National Instruments, witnessed the same thing during visits to orphanages in Africa and India from 2011 to 2016.

From teaching in India, Rohit Srinivasan and his brother learned that the kids there were very smart, but they completely lacked in creativity and problem-solving skills.

Also, the current STEM programs weren’t easy to replicate.
“We needed a way to go about scaling STEM programs for kids,” Rohit Srinivasan said.
Teaching STEM skills to kids is a problem even in the U.S. at schools with very tight budgets, he said.
Teachers need to find ways to teach robotics easily and affordably in the U.S. and worldwide, said Austin. During his 28-year career at National Instruments, Austin helped create the Lego Mindstorms NXT and EV3, programmable robotics kits used in classrooms today.

In Austin, the Srinivasan brothers joined forces with Paul Austin to found Trashhbots in spring of 2016 to create robotics kits and a curriculum that costs around $80 per kit and can be controlled through Bluetooth technology with a smartphone or tablet. They partnered with the Miracle Foundation, Science in a Suitcase and a board design shop called TenX to bring the project to life.

Trashbots requires minimal infrastructure, Rohit Srinivasan said.
There’s no need for web, cellular data, PCs or AC power supply, he said. Trashbots’ kits run on rechargeable batteries.

Trashbots did an initial test of its kits in India but officially did a much bigger launch at South by Southwest EDU in Austin in March of 2017. At that event, Trashbots won the student pitch competition and had a booth at the Expo where they received feedback from a lot of teachers.

In April, Trashbots was selected to joinTarmac Texas, a nine-month-long startup accelerator backed by 3M and CALSO and based at Galvanize. They have office space at Galvanize and they regularly meet with mentors and attend sessions to learn about building out their business.

Trashbots is far less expensive than pre-existing STEM and robotics kits and is easier to use than do it yourself kits, Rohit Srinivasan said.

“The do it yourself kits are lower cost but require a huge amount of work to go in and teach how to use the technologies,” Sidharth Srinivasan said.

Trashbots’ kit components include the Trashbot brain, software, components, curriculum, and trash or items sourced from the local environment such as water bottles, rubber bands, sticks, tape, PVC pipes and more, said Sidharth Srinivasan..."

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