Arduino Unit now complete! 10 plus hours of classwork on slideshows and provided code

It is finished. Well, almost I reckon. The Unit plan, Slideshows for an Arduino unit, 10 plus hours and included code all in one zipped file.
The idea is that teachers can use the Arduino to teach skills in programming and computational thinking. The best part about the Arduino is that its easy to source, cheap to replace and the language ain’t that hard. The lessons cover these topics: Servos, Motors, Sensors, LED’s (lots of exercises), Sound effects, Relays which are your basics to get a project going.

I highly recommend getting starter kits from either Trademe.co.nz or Aliexpress.com for your class. Alternatively, you could also get Sparkfun kits(https://www.sparkfun.com/products/14265) which come with their own resource book but are slightly dearer. You can make your own custom kits by getting bulk bits of Arduino units, resistors etc. by looking up the kits on Sparkfun and then buying them off Surplustronics, Jaycar or similar dealers. Look up https://learningdevelopments.co.nz/ for electronics kits as well. Troy may be able to source something for you.

Once again, thanks to John Barrow who initially compiled these together from various sources. Please email me for any clarifications as well as corrections at pravin.vaz@vuw.ac.nz as there are bound to be some. If something doesn’t work as it should, please look up forums for troubleshooting as well. There is a lot of information and support for the Arduino. Happy prototyping.
Download and Unzip

Micro:bit and Kitronik Buggy kit – User review

At $22 for a Micro:bit which has a Bluetooth, Accelerometer and capacitive touch sensors, I wouldn’t, for a moment, doubt its usefulness in a class as a learning resource. The web-based OS isn’t too bad either as you can program using the block based system or using JavaScript. As it’s a web-based OS, you need to create the program, download it to your computer and then transfer it to the Micro:bit, which shows up as a folder in your My Computer panel (Windows). The short USB micro cable can be a pain if all your front ports are in use but you can get USB extension cables for that purpose.

The assembled Buggy kit with Micro:Bit
The assembled Buggy kit with Micro:Bit

As a practical activity to go alongside the programming, I decided to get the Kitronik buggy kits. These kits are available via Learning Developments NZ for $44.95 NZD (please check latest pricing for correct guide). They are laser cut acrylic pieces that come along with a servo shield and 2 continuous rotation servos. The servos do need to be calibrated prior to installation and can sometimes behave erratically, which means you have to unscrew a few bits before you can reach them.

It took me just under 1.5 hrs to complete the construction ( using the manual and all its practical examples prior to the build, but I was probably slow as I was analyzing it too much and wasting time on YouTube as usual). It probably, in reality, takes about 20-30 mins to put the kit together. Apart from a few cons, I think it’s a good little buggy to have in the class. If you are teaching programming, you could have a number of challenges especially using the onboard arrays. We created a simple obstacle course in class that had student chairs and desks as obstacles and the robots had to make their way around it. Combine with creating an algorithm and flowchart and you can extend their computational thinking skills.

Cons: 1) Nuts are too small to handle and they don’t come with a screwdriver. So, if construction is the intended activity, please ensure you have a bunch of small magnetic Philips head screwdrivers (and possibly a small flat head as well to hold the nut in place, if your fingers are big). I wouldn’t recommend the construction activity with smaller kids.

2) Fine tuning the servo calibration can sometimes be required after assembly so be prepared to pull it apart after installation.

3) Phone app isn’t the most user friendly yet. A lot of bugs especially connecting to the device. Alternatively, there might be other developers who have made apps for the Microbit.

On the whole, I feel they are a good little kit to have in class. Aimed mainly at your primary and intermediate students, and as an introduction to computational thinking course, these nifty little buggies’ can do the job.

3D Scanning for Under $50

After reading a number of articles(and trying it out myself), I am convinced that the old Xbox 360 Kinect sensor can easily be used as a 3D scanner in the classroom. These are available on Trademe (NZ version of ebay) for under $20 or some of your students might have one lying around when they upgraded to the Xbox one. You will also need a power adapter made specially for the sensor which looks like this
Click here for Power Adapter link on Ebay

You will need the following downloads:

Kinect Developer Tool Kit v 1.8.0 (or 2.0 depending on which one is accepted by your computer. Mine was v1.8)
Kinect SDK v1.8

Kinect Runtime v1.8

Microsoft Speech Platform SDK v11 (for speech enabled apps)

.NET framework

Visual studio

By default, the newest version is where Microsoft will take you ( for Developer kit download) so if that version does not work, you will need to look for the version before it, which is v1.8 (which worked for me).

Hardware requirements: I am running a fairly good spec computer as I use it for my HTC Vive work. (Intel Xeon E5 @3.60GHz, 8GB Ram, 64bit Windows, 250GB HDD, GTX 1070) But the scanner should run on a lower spec graphics card. I would recommend a good graphics card as Skanect ( below) records at a high frame rate, plus any Blender and Unity rendering will need a good GPU.

Once downloaded, install all software before plugging in your Kinect sensor. Sometimes it takes a while for all the drivers to be installed. In your device manager, it may only show Kinect USB audio. There is a bit of tinkering to be done here. Don’t give up if it doesn’t work. Just Google the issue and plenty of forum discussions will pop up.

Plug the sensor in. The green light should start blinking. Open Developer Toolkit Browser for Kinect and Kinect Studio. In the Toolkit browser you will see a range of different pre-made programs that you can run. Kinect studio is the background app that will run enabling the Kinect. There are some cool games made which you can download and run. Eventually, I will look for a way to export data into Unity using the Kinect for Unity package, but I haven’t explored into that just yet.

Using it as a Scanner with paid software:

This is the best part. I use Skanect (Watch a quick video here ) Skanect is a neat tool for making 3D scans and exporting them as STL files ready for 3D printing. Alternatively, you can export as OBJ for your favorite editing program like Blender or Unity. The free version is still remarkably good. Limitations include upto 5000 geometric sides in a scan which is plenty if students are making busts of themselves or scanning an object in class. I tried the free version for a while, but got the full version eventually as it was free with the Occipital Structure sensor for iPad.

There are lots of forums on this project. However, official support for the Kinect sensor project has ended I believe. But there are plenty of DIY enthusiasts all over the world who will assist in this project.

If you are getting serious about 3D scanning and want to move to the next step, I suggest Structure sensor for the iPad which works well with Skanect software (you get a full version for free with the device). Currently, at Victoria, one of the lecturers is creating a workflow for teachers which when you scan on the iPad, it will export the model into Unity for editing with your game project. I will share the workflow once I get hold of it. Until then, let me know if you have any doubts / queries. My email is pravin.vaz@vuw.ac.nz

Happy scanning.