Can a just turned ten years old and his eight years old sister, never used littleBits before, create a project using littleBits and the Cloud module? Will our betta fish be fed in time?
We are a family of casual makers. My just turned 10 years old, Gab, and his sister Morgan both have a lot of Scratch experience but never used littleBits. We got onto the beta test list for the cloudbit module and was sent a cloudbit (Thanks littleBits!). I purchased the premium kit so that we have more parts to play with. With them in hand, Gabriel is tasked with first trying out the littleBits and then create a project with the betta cloudbit module.
Gabriel and Morgan like the LittleBits system. "Robotics but simpler" is his immediate reaction. Morgan commented that the color coding of the module helps him locate and organize his work. He likes all of the sensors and output devices. He has used the pico board with Scratch before, but the pressure sensor and the pulse module is new to him. One of his favorite output is the vibration module, another new device.
Two criticism from Gabriel is that
- the fan is not strong enough
- we wish the servo would "spin around all the way".
And most importantly the cloud module response time is very slow. In fact sometimes it seems to not work at all. We tried using twitter and SMS to trigger action on the littleBits and often it either is very slow or not worked at all.
Yum Yum Fish Feeder
After brain storming a bit we decided to build a fish feeder, as Gabriel's daily task is to feed our only family pet ORO (Octo Rainbow Odo) beta fish. With a cloud powered fish feeder, we can feed the fish when we are not home. Seems easy enough? But Gabriel insisted on feeding ORO's daily 3 fish pellets one at a time. If we throw all three pellets in, the fish gets confused and sometimes does not eat the pellets.
Which Output Module
We started brain storming and experimented with each of the outputs to get ideas. Because Gabriel and Morgan has started building another project using the servo module, they wanted to use the servo with some sort of cardboard attachment to push the pellets into the fish bowl. But the pellets are too small to make this work effectively.
We tried the fan, but it is too weak to blow the very small fish pellets down a chute. (Dad's mental note: perhaps concentrating the airflow would have helped). Then we settled on the vibration module.
We build a little chute with a toilet paper roll (from the standard family maker material inventory?). Taped the vibration module to it and crumbled up there bits of paper as test pellets. It worked ! Gabriel built a stand to hold the chute and off we went testing the prototype. For testing we just used the roller switch as the controller to speed up our test time. It worked pretty well, but...
When we put the actual tiny fish pellets on the chute, they would not move. The fish pellets are too small and too light. The vibration module does not create enough 'shake' with the toilet paper roll.
We had bits of paper laying around, so we build a very simple chute with a piece of paper. A lighter chute means stronger shake? Dad's extra input is to put a fold at the end of the chute to hold the pellets better. This works. We hooked everything up, tested with the roller switched and it worked. We tested the cloud module before to make sure the IFTTT recipes worked. We replaced the roller switch with the cloud module, setup the fish feeder over the fish bowl, and fed our fish via SMS remotely.
You can view the project on the littlebits website for more details.
Our brainstorming notes for this article