Friday, October 25, 2013 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm
KEC 1001

Speaker Information

Tom Lauwers
BirdBrain Technologies LLC


We describe the design processes behind the Finch robot and the Hummingbird robotics kit, two projects that have evolved from NSF-backed research projects to educational products. The Finch robot is the result of the CSbots program at the Carnegie Mellon University CREATE lab; CSbots was an investigation into the use of robotics to improve learning and motivation of students in introductory computer science courses. The Hummingbird robotics kit is a kit of robot components developed as part of the Arts & Bots program, also at the CREATE lab. The kit was designed to enable learning of engineering design and computing through student projects that marry arts & crafts materials with LEDs, motors, sensors, and microcontrollers. In both cases, the final feature set, capabilities, and form are direct results of participatory design between hardware and software engineers, educators, and students followed by an iterative cycle of educational pilots in formal educational settings resulting in further refinements. This process, although not dissimilar from standard engineering design, contains a number of complications due to the nature of designing hardware for education; notably, evaluations of student learning, long cycle times due to constraints imposed by semester-based curricula, and properly assessing the utility of hardware features. It is these complications that we will focus on in this presentation.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Tom Lauwers is the founder of BirdBrain Technologies LLC, maker of the Finch Robot and Hummingbird Robotics Kit, which together are in use in over 500 schools and colleges. Finch and Hummingbird were both initially designed during Tom’s Ph.D work in the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute’s CREATE lab. His 2010 thesis for “Aligning Capabilities of Interactive Educational Tools to Learner Goals”, focuses on the design process behind the Finch and Hummingbird products and provides general suggestions for designing hardware and software to support learners and educational environments. Dr. Lauwers also holds a bachelor's degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon.