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Telefónica Educación Digital, the education branch of Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica, arranged a contest for students in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) for the second year. While the 2016/17 edition of the contest was launched only in Spain, 2017/18’s took place in Latin America as well. Just a week ago, the jury came to the final result for the current Spanish edition.

In the first edition, we in Arduino Education created an educational kit and content to assist a team of mentors that would in turn work with teachers all across Spain in helping them building projects within the limits of the contest. In the 2017/18 edition, we collaborated on a series of webinars for teachers hosted last fall. In both editions, I have acted as one of the jury members. The level of projects is pretty high in average. Considering that many of the participants come from secondary schools, it is quite impressive to see how they embrace the latest technological developments like IoT or VR and make meaningful projects out of those.

The winners of the Spanish version of the contest are invited to a trip to CERN to visit the place where things happen in science: the particle accelerator. Over 1,500 innovations were presented by seven-member teams within the categories established by TED: IoT, Industry 4.0, e-health, digital education, cybersecurity, and other technological projects. From those 1,500, the jury had to work really hard to come up with the final results. If you are among the non-chosen ones, you should know that the gap between the top 50-or-so projects was incredibly tight.

The following list highlights the four teams that were awarded by the jury. I have translated the information about the teams, but the videos from the students are only in Spanish. I hope you will find them as thrilling as I do!

Project 1

  • Title: AGROTECH
  • Topic: Livestock automation system
  • Level: Advance (junior high and vocational education)
  • Theme: Industry 4.0
  • School: Instituto de Educación Secundaria LOS OLMOS
  • City: Albacete
  • Description: AGROTECH implements a prototype to automate the systems to manage livestock. Using Arduino and a series of sensors, it is possible to monitor and refill the livestock’s food and water, control the light and ventilation of the stables, report alarms like fire or intrusions and eliminate leftovers. All information is captured in real-time and displayed on a website.

Project 2

  • Title: Virtual Detective (Detective Virtual)
  • Topic: Virtual reality spaces
  • Level: High (upper secondary)
  • Theme: Digital education
  • School: Colegio María Virgen
  • City: Madrid
  • Description: Virtual Detective is a virtual, guided tour to the school. The students have hidden a series of challenges along the way that are related to different school subjects. The virtual space is a gamified version of the class that helps the kids learn in an alternative way.

Project 3

  • Title: Recycling Is for Everyone (REPT, Reciclar Es Para Todos)
  • Topic: Other technological projects
  • Level: Junior (lower secondary)
  • Theme: Digital education
  • School: Colegio Santo Domingo
  • City: Santa Cruz de Tenerife
  • Description: REPT is a trash bin prototype that can classify the leftovers and will run a lottery among those recycling once the bin has been sent to the recycling station.

Project 4

  • Title: ALPHAPSI
  • Topic: VR platform for the diagnosis and treatment of students with special educational needs
  • Level: Advance
  • Theme: Digital education
  • School: Colegio Calasancio Hispalense
  • City: Sevilla
  • Description: ALPHAPSI consists of an application made in Processing that connects to a VR head-mounted display capable of detecting the wearer’s head movements. Thanks to a series of tests consisting of tracking an object moving in the VR space, the system can follow the movements and will help generating a diagnosis and treating students with attention disorders.

The Desafío STEM project is an initiative of Telefonica Educacion Digital and their project STEMbyme

For the most part, the next generation of wearable technology development has been focused around your wrist, arm, ears, and even your face. Hair, however, remains a unique and much less explored material… until now, at least.

That’s because the team of Sarah Sterman, Molly Nicholas, Christine Dierk, and Professor Eric Paulos at UC Berkeley’s Hybrid Ecologies Lab have created interactive hair extensions capable of changing shape and color, sensing touch, and communicating over Bluetooth. The aptly named “HairIO” conceals a skeleton of nitinol wire, a shape memory alloy (SMA) that morphs into different forms when exposed to heat. An Arduino Nano handles control, enabling it to respond to stimulus such as messages from your phone using an Adafruit Bluefruit board.

That’s not the only trick of these fibers, as they can use thermochromic pigments to change color along with the SMA action, and respond to touch via capacitive sensing.

Human hair is a cultural material, with a rich history displaying individuality, cultural expression and group identity. It is malleable in length, color and style, highly visible, and embedded in a range of personal and group interactions. As wearable technologies move ever closer to the body, and embodied interactions become more common and desirable, hair presents a unique and little-explored site for novel interactions. In this paper, we present an exploration and working prototype of hair as a site for novel interaction, leveraging its position as something both public and private, social and personal, malleable and permanent. We develop applications and interactions around this new material in HairIO: a novel integration of hair-based technologies and braids that combine capacitive touch input and dynamic output through color and shape change. Finally, we evaluate this hair-based interactive technology with users, including the integration of HairIO within the landscape of existing wearable and mobile technologies.

Be sure to check out the video below and read more in the team’s tutorial here!

Performing an instrument well is hard enough, but flipping through sheet music while playing can slightly delay things in the best case, or can cause you to lose your concentration altogether. Music displayed on a computer is a similar story; however, Maxime Boudreau has a great solution using an Arduino Nano inside of a 3D-printed pedal assembly.

When set up with software found here, Boudreau’s DIY device allows you to control PDF sheet music on your laptop with the tap of a foot. While designed to work with a macOS app, there’s no reason something similar couldn’t be worked out under Windows or Linux as needed.

Check it out in action below!

If you need to get creative with something useful, clocks are always great objects to hack together. One idea, in particular, is this Pong Clock from Brett Oliver.

Oliver’s Arduino-powered device is based off of a similar project by Nick Hall, and plays itself in Pong, winning and losing to show the correct time as the score. This version adds a temperature display, countdown timer, and an excellent enclosure made out of what was once a cheap jewelry box.

The results are excellent enough to place in a stylish kitchen or living room, and looks like an approachable build. You can check out the project in the video below and find more details Oliver’s write-up here.

We recently sponsored one of the labs at Lulea University in Sweden, the INSPIRE (INstrumentation for Space and Planetary Investigation, Resources and Exploration) Lab. It is not just any lab, it is the lab from Prof. Mari Paz Zorzano and Prof. Javier Martín, both known for their work in the possibility of discovering water on Mars’ surface, this extent was published in this Nature magazine article in 2015, among other places.

What I learned rather quickly, thanks to my interactions with both professors over the last couple of years, is that Arduino has been a basic component in the countless projects made in their lab–the Mega and Due are their students’ favorites due to the amount of available pins as well as robustness of the earlier; but also because of the floating comma, analog to digital converter, and general relevance for instrumentation of the latter.

This article is going to be the first of a series where we will highlight the way the Lulea lab is using Arduino for instruments, real life experiences, zero gravity tests, low orbit missions, and general teaching. We hope they will inspire many to follow in their steps and look at the stars with a renewed interest in science and technology.

Meet the players

Mari Paz and Javier were known to me before I actually got to meet up with them in person. As a researcher, I had heard of the article in Nature, who hadn’t? Plus, since both of them come from Spain (as I do), you can imagine that the national press was covering their finding pretty well when it was published. Funny enough, they knew about Arduino because they, as many researchers, needed to figure out methods to better finance their experiments, and Arduino is a tool known for being affordable, as well as technically competent to command many of their tests. I should confess that, by the time we all got in touch, I was already trying to figure out how to talk to them.

In November 2016, Mari Paz and Javier had just opened their lab in Kiruna, their discovery had given them new positions at a new university (Lulea University, owner of the Kiruna campus, closer to the launching station), a new team, and access to a lot more resources. And so they got back to work. I was invited to give a speech as part of their seminar series and later host a short workshop mainly for master and PhD students. The Kiruna campus in November is completely surrounded by snow. You can make it there skiing several months in the year, something I got told people do sometimes. However, the city of Kiruna is going to go through a bunch of transformations (the city center will be moved 30km due to the mine that is literally under it), and the professors decided to move their lab to Lulea’s main campus for the time being. Follow the descriptions of some of the projects developed there.

Project 1: PVT-Gamers

One of the biggest challenges for spacecrafts is how to weigh the remaining propellant (fuel) in the absence of gravity. With contemporary space vehicles in mind, which can be reused, this has become one of the most economically critical limitations to be taken into account. PVT-Gamers is the acronym for ‘Improved Pressure-Volume-Temperature Gauging Method for Electric-Propulsion Systems’ experiment designed at the INSPIRE Lab. It is exploring the use of pressurized propellants, like Xenon, and monitoring how it is used and how much is left to keep the spacecraft moving.

PVT-Gamers has been chosen by the European Space Agency (ESA) to fly on-board the Airbus A310 ZERO-G airplane. For those of you not familiar with it, it is a flying vehicle that reaches a state similar to zero gravity, and therefore is used for simulating space conditions. PVT-Gamers has been selected within the ESA program “Fly Your Thesis! 2018,” which will give the research team behind it the ability to test their assumptions in a real world scenario. A new method will be applied to small pressurized Xenon gas containers under hyper/micro-gravity cycles at a stationary cooling. Arduino boards, specifically six Mega 2560, are instrumental in recovering all the data, such as temperature, pressure, deformation, or acceleration. Subsequently, it will be possible to reproduce on-orbit, thrust phase, external accelerations, and fuel transfer conditions over a propellant tank at its End Of Life (EOL) stage, where there is almost no propellant left.

The potential applications from this scientific experiment may provide the upcoming spacecraft generation with a fuel measuring and control method that could constitute a turning point for long-term space missions. This can be applied to CubeSats or telecommunication satellites, and also to large future projects using electric propulsion such as the lunar space station “Deep Space Gateway” or the Mercury mission BepiColombo.

Current design of the PVT-Gamers experiment rack configuration to be attached to the A310 ZERO-G cabin. Photo credit: PVT-Gamers

Simulation of the velocity distribution in magnitude within a spacecraft propellant tank as consequence of external heating. Photo credit: PVT-Gamers

A310 ZERO-G cabin during a micro-gravity stage. Photo credit: ESA

Closing with a reflection: Why is this so important?

You might wonder… Why should Arduino be so interested in the creation of machines aimed at the exploration of space? The answer is three-fold. First, space is the ultimate frontier, the conditions are very tough, shipping electronics out of the atmosphere is expensive and forces engineers to become very creative, reusability is key (a part has to be used for more than one thing, even the hardware components). For Arduino, proving that our boards and choice of materials, while still cheap, are good enough to be part of the space career, is of course of vital importance. If it works in space, it works on Earth, also for the industry.

Second, the limitations are such, that many of the designs become very useful in everyday situations. If we made a greenhouse for Mars, it would work for the Arctic, or for poor villagers on the mountains anywhere in the world as well. Isn’t an excuse good enough to make a machine that will help improve people’s lives?

Third, in education we need icons to follow, and we need experiences to replicate. The ones from Mari Paz, Javier, and their team will for sure awaken the scientific vocation in many of our younger ones. Helping science is helping education!

As part of a physical interaction and realization course at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, a team of students decided to build an interactive installation called “Alone Together

Their setup consists of sensor-equipped, networking artificial plants. The leafy plant model, dubbed “Thorulf,” uses flex sensors to detect leaf movement, while “Svamp” mushrooms employ circular force sensors for interaction.

Arduino Uno boards, along with Bluetooth modules and a computer running an openFrameworks server, allow the plants to communicate. When one plant is bent, it signals its partner to light up with a fun LED pattern as seen in the video below.

We imagine a series of plants all around the Library, assigned to one another to communicate. Our concept could even be applied over the web, so that the plants could be long distances apart, and used to communicate from one country to another, similar to the “friendship lamp” concept. In this case, the light interaction could be changed, so that the plant stays lit up when touched.

More details on the project can be found here.

“ChrisN219” is the proud owner of an antique Coke machine that he uses to store his favorite beverages. While a very cool decoration, it doesn’t have a way to reveal how many cans are left.

To add this functionality, he turned to an Arduino Nano along with an ultrasonic sensor that he embedded inside the machine to sense how high the cans are stacked. This allows the user to know when it’s time to stock up again, and after inserting another ultrasonic sensor to the display unit on top, an OLED screen automatically shows the cans available as someone approaches it.

If you’d like to build your own, you can find more details, code, and 3D printing files in ChrisN219’s write-up.

On March 10th, I was a guest speaker at Maker Faire Cairo 2018 as a representative of Arduino. I took the opportunity as I had never been to Egypt and was really curious about the maker culture there. You can imagine that different cultures are always going to adopt ideas in various ways and Maker Faire is a great example for this. If you’ve ever been to Maker Faire Bay Area, where the event is arranged inside some old hangars and known for its steampunk character, then you would realize how very different it is from Maker Faires throughout Europe.

Take for example, Rome, which we help organize every year (and that my partner, Massimo Banzi, curates) whose location changed for several years in a row until finding its place at the Fiumicino exhibition center and features a number of Italian universities and institutions that come and exhibit (in fact, there was a full CSI lab from the Carabinieri, the national police force, at last year’s event); but also from smaller ones like the one in Bilbao, Spain, held at an old cookie factory and that has the compromise to remain small as a way to allow makers to meet and talk to each other.

You’ll ask yourself: what kind of Faire was Cairo then? The truth of the matter is that Maker Faire Cairo is still a small event that gathers about 10,000 people at the gardens of Smart Village, a complex inhabited by tech companies ranging from multinationals to local startups. Thanks to the support of both local and international institutions (namely the U.S. embassy), the crew behind the event put together a remarkable show that is clearly going to grow over the next couple of years.

To start, the two days before the Faire, all the international guests and makers were invited to a tour to see the FabLabs, the city, the pyramids, the national museum with the national mummies (hundreds of them), and to get to know one another a little better. Even if I could only join for the second day, I could value the importance of this trip. It also happened in parallel with the Egyptian Maker Week, which was arranged prior to the event in an effort to raise awareness around the Maker Movement and its importance for STEAM education.

But back to the Faire. The whole event happened outdoors; in Cairo it barely rains, so they were running no risk when they decided to book a garden to bring in some open tents and build the booths. Not to mention, the gardens were located by a fountain that kept the air fresh, despite the heat of over 30 degrees Celsius during the day. People are used to the temperature, because nobody seemed to be concerned about it. Besides, it’s all about wearing a cap, sunglasses, and drinking plenty of water. 🙂

Engineering could be considered the main theme of the Faire. Most of the projects on display, from older and younger makers alike, were exploring different topics within the field of engineering: robots looking for mines, robots making cotton candy, fighting robots, drones, a “formula student” car, a wheelchair that could go up and down stairs, the FabLab Egypt experience, underwater robots, and so on. During my talk, when I asked to the audience about their field of interest, 99% of the people were or wanted to be engineers.

While engineering seemed to be the signature of the Faire, something that should–in my opinion– make the organizers proud about such an achievement is that there were other things going on. There was a decent amount of cosplayers that came to celebrate their geekness. I had the chance to listen to some of the international cosplay guests about how much work goes into creating certain elements of the costumes, particularly the gadgets are the problem, and specially if they have any kind of interactive technology. Yet again, cosplayers weren’t afraid of the heat either, even if their hours-long make-up work could easily be washed away by it.

The FabLab network in Egypt had a great presence with both separate booths for some of the most permanent labs, as well as with their collective booths to show the work they do in promoting the Maker Movement. Some of their initiatives are remarkable, like the “FabLab on wheels:” a van with a mini fabrication laboratory that has been traveling across the country for an entire year and that will continue to do so in the forthcoming future.

Small independent designers presented their work in the field of upcycling; I liked the work from a group that looked at glass, car tires, and wood as basic construction pieces. But I was also nicely surprised by a painter that created his own version of  “projection mapping” using cardboard boxes as a canvas.

The presence of Arduino at the Faire was simply astonishing. Most robots had something Arduino inside. The aforementioned electric wheelchair was controlled by Arduino Uno boards. There was even a vending machine that accepts cryptocurrency payments thanks to its arducrypto library! I was seriously impressed by the quality of some of the projects I saw.

The Faire closed with a concert with hip-hop artists MTM, an Egyptian band that made their comeback at the Maker Faire Cairo. The stage was equipped with the latest LED technologies, huge DMX lights, fireworks… That’s what I call ending in style! The party took place directly on-site, at the main stage. All the makers, cosplayers, and visitors came together to dance and celebrate an outstanding event.

But one cannot talk about something like a Maker Faire and not talk about the people behind it. The speakers, who came from all across the Middle East and beyond–had the best hosts possible: Omar, Ahmed, Madonna (sorry for not mentioning everyone, there were so many volunteers)… To all of you: thanks for a great time and for showing us around!

Back in the olden days, when the Wire library still sucked, the Arduino was just a microcontroller. Now, we have single board computers and cheap microcontrollers with WiFi built in. As always, there’s a need to make programming and embedded development more accessible and more widely supported among the hundreds of devices available today.

At the Embedded Linux Conference this week, [Massimo Banzi] announced the beginning of what will be Arduino’s answer to the cloud, online IDEs, and a vast ecosystem of connected devices. It’s Arduino Create, an online IDE that allows anyone to develop embedded projects and manage them remotely.

As demonstrated in [Massimo]’s keynote, the core idea of Arduino Create is to put a connected device on the Internet and allow over-the-air updates and development. As this is Arduino, the volumes of libraries available for hundreds of different platforms are leveraged to make this possible. Right now, a wide variety of boards are supported, including the Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, and several Intel IoT boards.

The focus of this development is platform-agnostic and focuses nearly entirely on ease of use and interoperability. This is a marked change from the Arduino of five years ago; there was a time when the Arduino was an ATmega328p, and that’s about it. A few years later, you could put Arduino sketches on an ATtiny85. A lot has changed since then. We got the Raspberry Pi, we got Intel stepping into the waters of IoT devices, we got a million boards based on smartphone SoCs, and Intel got out of the IoT market.

While others companies and organizations have already made inroads into an online IDE for Raspberry Pis and other single board computers, namely the Adafruit webIDE and Codebender, this is a welcome change that already has the support of the Arduino organization.

You can check out [Massimo]’s keynote below.

If you’ve spent any serious time in libraries, you’ve probably noticed that they attract people who want or need to be alone without being isolated. In this space, a kind of silent community is formed. This phenomenon was the inspiration [MoonAnchor23] needed to build a network of connected house plants for a course on physical interaction and realization. But you won’t find these plants unleashing their dry wit on twitter. They only talk to each other and to nearby humans.

No living plants were harmed during this project—the leaves likely wouldn’t let much light through, anyway. The plants are each equipped with a strip of addressable RGB LEDs and a flex sensor controlled by an Arduino Uno. Both are hot glued to the undersides of the leaves and hidden with green tape. By default, the plants are set to give ambient light. But if someone strokes the leaf with the flex sensor, it sends a secret message to the other plant that induces light patterns.

Right now, the plants communicate over Bluetooth using an OpenFrameworks server on a local PC. Eventually, the plan is use a master-slave configuration so the plants can be farther apart. Stroke that mouse button to see a brief demo video after the break. [MoonAnchor23] also built LED mushroom clusters out of silicone and cling wrap using a structural soldering method by [DIY Perks] that’s also after the break. These work similarly but use force-sensing resistors instead of flex-sensing.

Networking several plants together could get expensive pretty quickly, but DIY flex sensors would help keep the BOM costs down.

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