Hummingbird circuit board from BirdBrain Technologies
Hummingbird circuit board from BirdBrain Technologies

Expressive robotics kit

If you can glue it, paint it, mold it, fold it, or color it, then chances are you can animate it using Hummingbird. Developed as part of an initiative called Arts & Bots at Carnegie Mellon University’s CreateLAB, Hummingbird is a no-experience-necessary robotics kit designed for students age 8 and up. Specifically created with the intent of fostering a long-lasting interest of STEM in middle school girls, Hummingbird combines simple robotic technology with the art of “making.” The kit, which costs $199 through BirdBrain Technologies, consists of the Hummingbird microcontroller, power supply, cables, servos, motors, vibrator motors, colored LED lights, and light, temperature, sound and distance sensors.  Focusing on the more imaginative and creative aspect of technology, Hummingbird allows students to bring their ideas to life to communicate thoughts, feelings, and stories.

Most Hummingbird-powered robots are 2D sculptures, where the palm-sized control board and input wires are hidden behind the object. The robot receives instructions from a computer, which is connected with a regular USB cable. Hummingbird is a versatile tool that be applied to many different learning environments and accommodates many different learning styles.

Keywords / Definitions

  • CREATE Lab: A project of Carnegie Mellon University that explores socially meaningful innovation and deployment of robotic technologies

  • Robot: A machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically

  • Microcontroller: A small computer on a single integrated circuit containing a processor core, memory, and programmable input/output peripherals

We want students to become inventors of technology rather than users of technology. Hummingbird feeds a student’s natural curiosity about technology by enabling her to incorporate robotics into something she is making that is meaningful or useful.
—Illah Nourbakhsh,  Carnegie Mellon Robotics Professor

Unlike many other teaching robots that are focused on competitive or repetitive tasks, Hummingbird encourages storytelling and expressive communication. Both students and teachers do not need any computer programming or robotics experience to make Hummingbird work. To program tasks, students can use a free software provided by Carnegie Mellon that uses a simple, graphic programming interface. A model of the Hummingbird control board appears on the screen and users click on the desired function then use sliders to adjust specific actions.

Carnegie Mellon offers a wealth of project examples, videos, and tutorials online. For more experienced users or for those who want to take their skills to the next level, Hummingbird is compatible with advanced programming tools like Java, Snap!, Processing, and Raspberry Pi. It simulates real-life robotics building and exposes the “insides” of a robot and how it functions. While a background in robotics isn’t necessary to master Hummingbird, a desire to think outside of the box is.

Hummingbird was last modified: April 1st, 2014 by Matt Hannigan