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Welcome Maker Faire Visitors!

RG @ MakerFaire

Chirp chirp! Greetings visitors from Maker Faire! Here you can learn more about the details of RoboBrrd, and hopefully give you some guide as to how to create your own! You can follow the progress on our blog at!

Follow us on Twitter for constant updates!
Circle us on Google+ for Robot Parties!


Take a picture of you and RoboBrrd at our table and tweet it to @RobotGrrl with the #makerfaire hashtag, and be entered to WIN an exclusive prototype of RoboBrrd kit version when it is ready!

Hope to see you at Maker Faire!


Impy RoboBrrd

This webpage is your one-stop source to gather all of the information about RoboBrrd. We will be updating it periodically with more videos, additions, and modifications.

RoboBrrd is an animatronic character designed to be utilized as a tangible physical interface to interact with learning applications for elementary school students.

Check out this video to see clips of RoboBrrd in action!

There are three RoboBrrds that have been created so far. Here are their descriptions:

Impy RoboBrrd - Nicknamed 'Impy', short for 'Important'. This is the latest RoboBrrd, and the official prototype that sparked the creation of an Instructable and intense documentation for the RoboBrrd robots! Impy uses a standard Arduino as a brain and has a NFC reader to see what hats it is wearing.
Learning Pet - Created for the Open Hardware Summit 2011 and Maker Faire NYC 2011! Nicknamed Learning Pet because it describes what it does, basically. It helps students learn by being a physical avatar to the virtual world learning games. We demoed this with the 'Math in Space' game. Learning Pet uses a Google Android ADK Arduino as a brain, making it able to interface with ADK capable phones.
Original RoboBrrd - This was the one that started it all. It has pencil toppers for eyelashes, and it also has a pan-tilt base. This was the main experimental platform! Original RoboBrrd uses an Arduino MEGA as a brain, and has a RS232 interface for the Redpark Serial Cable to work with iOS Apps.


With RoboBrrd being a tangible physical interface, the students will interact with RoboBrrd to control the in-game character within the learning application, and RoboBrrd will motivate the students to keep playing with chirps and celebratory dances. Different behaviours in RoboBrrd will be unlocked for every level that is beat, taking their virtual world achievements into the real world. The learning applications are designed to work with various operating systems and mobile platforms.

As a standalone robot, RoboBrrd is able to perform photovore-like behaviours using its two light sensors mounted on the top corners of its face. It can interact using its RGB LED eyes, speaker, two wings, beak, and body by rotating. An example behaviour is 'peek-a-boo', where placing your hands over its eyes will make the RoboBrrd chirp, and when removing your hands it will flap its wings and dance by rotating around. Additional modules can be connected and modifications can be made to extend the functionality of RoboBrrd.


The history of RoboBrrd is quite extensive, but really fun. Back in March 2011, we were contacted by Adafruit Industries asking to make some robot videos for their Ask an Engineer show (before Google+ existed). They didn't have any requirements for the robot, which allowed me to brainstorm about building a robot that can be made out of common materials, such as pencils and coffee stir sticks.

I chose to look at birds as inspiration for this robot. The interesting thing with birds is that they can be anthropomorphized extremely well, examples being Woody the Woodpecker and Donald Duck. I decided to put my own spin on a bird robot, and create one that is an iconic cube shape. The beak mechanism would be similar to a scotch-yoke mechanism to push both halves of the beak open, as opposed to lifting one beak half.

RoboBrrd started out as a 30cm version, with notable pencil eraser tops as eyelashes. This robot was fun to experiment with various behaviours and applications. Fast forward to September 2011, the Open Hardware Summit announced they were having a scholarship contest. They only announced this a little less than a week before the conference, and I wanted to create a RoboBrrd that I could bring and show around to everyone. The 10cm version of RoboBrrd was created from start to finish over 4.5 days (don't ask how much time I slept during those days), and was able to work with the Android Accessory Development Kit or Processing to demonstrate the virtual to real world connection, with a focus on learning.

That RoboBrrd was nicknamed Learning Pet. Here are two videos of me explaining Learning Pet!

The RoboBrrds (and MANOI) were
featured on MAKE Blog after the Maker Faire NYC 2011, we won an Editor's Choice Award too (with an interesting story behind that), and Adafruit Industries has kindly given me some more servos to create another RoboBrrd. With the latest version of the RoboBrrd, it was documented very well, with design files, videos, and an Instructable. Here is a video of my table at Maker Faire NYC 2011!

Learn to build

If you would like to learn how to build a RoboBrrd, you can follow the
Instructable here!

Building a RoboBrrd takes around 20 hours, and it can be built using household materials. You can find the list of materials here.

You can view YouTube videos of the build process too! We will be editing and uploading more of these videos so that they can help you build a RoboBrrd! You can also view the photos on Flickr in the collection.

We also have a guide on MAKE: Projects, however it is for the vintage RoboBrrd that does not have the improvements that the RoboBrrd on the Instructable has.


The design of RoboBrrd has been modelled in AutoCAD, so you can see all of the dimensions of the pieces that you will need. You can download a zip of all the design files off of
GitHub here. We include pdf versions with multiple angles in case you don't have AutoCAD.

Here are all of the faces placed together that you can zoom in and look at:

There are a few differences from each RoboBrrd to the latest revision. From the green big RoboBrrd to the small blue RoboBrrd:
  • The beak mechanism uses an elastic between the two axels to prevent the lower beak from being caught.
  • The cloth is revealable on all three sides now, using velcro
  • There is no tilt servo, only rotation
  • The RGB LED eyes are not individually controllable
  • Mini RoboBrrd has no pipecleaner legs or feathers, and the eyes are googley eyes

From the small blue RoboBrrd to the orange and purple RoboBrrd:
  • Brain is now in the primary base instead of an extra base
  • Interior popsicle sticks were painted & varnished before decorating
  • Uses a standard Arduino
  • Has a hula hoop controlled by a DC motor
  • Improved wiring system
  • LDRs on top corners of face

You can find the list of materials needed on the Instructable here!


RoboBrrd uses a standard
Arduino with a protoscrew shield on top. On the shield, there are two main circuits, the voltage regulator and the DC motor control. We posted a schematic of the circuit created in Eagle on GitHub here. We also include a png version in case you don't have Eagle. You can find the list of components needed on the Instructable here!

Impy RoboBrrd

Impy RoboBrrd

Arduino Code

The code that RoboBrrd uses on the Arduino can be
found on GitHub here!

To run the code, open it in the Arduino IDE and upload it to your board. You may have to change some of the pins, which are located at the top of the code. We include some testing and calibration functions that can be called in the code to begin testing your RoboBrrd.

Software (Computer)

When creating Learning Pet for the Open Hardware Summit, we also created the "Math in Space" game using Processing. The goal of the game was to blast the UFOs from lowest to highest number. To control the on-screen character, you would interact with Learning Pet in real. We believe that the software learning applications will be a huge important part of RoboBrrd, and will be releasing more improved games in the future so that you can play with them with your RoboBrrd! In the meantime, if you would like to look at this software you can
get it from GitHub here, with the accompanying Arduino code here.

Here is an example of Math in Space in action!

We also created a little art program called Cosmic Soap for the original RoboBrrd. It was a mashup of a fluid dynamics and physics simulation that could be controlled via RoboBrrd's light sensors. You can get the code from GitHub here.

Here is an example of Cosmic Soap in action!

Software (Android)

By having Learning Pet always accessible to be used to learn more information, then it will be much more fun for the students to play with. We demonstrate this concept with "Travelling Learning Pet", a simple Android application that has the virtual RoboBrrd hanging by its wing on the tilt of the universe. The rotation of the virtual RoboBrrd is controlled by the IR distance sensor on the real robot. It's just a little prototype right now! :) You can view the source on Github, with the accompanying Arduino code to go with that!

Here is an example of Travelling Learning Pet in action!

We did try to make Math in Space Quest ported to the Android and ADK, however we kept experiencing some difficulties with sending characters in a sequence. Sometimes is would work, and sometimes the Arduino would just refuse to connect. Sometimes this would cause the status bar to crash. However, this is all pretty much pushing the envelope still. If you want, you can see the attempt to make it work on Github (and the Arduino source zip), however be forewarned: they aren't very organized or coherent.

Software (iOS)

The RoboBrrd Food App that was used with the Redpark Serial Cable and big RoboBrrd can be found on GitHub here. Apps that use the Redpark Serial Cable cannot be uploaded to the iOS App Store, but with the source you will be able to deploy it onto your own device (as long as you have a developer's license).

Here is a video demonstration of the RoboBrrd Food App in action:

We have been investigating ways on getting iOS devices to communicate with robots, and one of the ways is to use Bonjour. We have written some Apps for this, and you can find out more about this on the apps4arduino website. We plan to include this functionality in RoboBrrd in the future.


We want to eventually have additional modules that can be interfaced with to extend the functionality, add games, and more. Learning Pet demonstrates this modular system as the brain is detachable from the main robot using plugs. You can read more about this on
Learning Pet's website.

NFC Hat Mod

This is an example of a modification that can be made to RoboBrrd to enhance its behaviours. This will allow RoboBrrd to do different dances, be a photovore or not, and also chirp more or less. With the NFC Hat Mod, you will need a NFC reader and some NFC tags. We will be using the
seeedstudio NFC shield (thanks seeedstudio!), and the NFC tags from Adafruit (thanks Adafruit).

IMG_4304 - Version 2

By placing a popsicle stick between the two ledges of the side faces, you can use some dual lock to attach the NFC reader.


You can place the NFC tags on the hats themselves. We will need to load some data onto the tags to be able to identify them. For this, we just used the seeedstudio example code, modified so that the block that is written is just all one number. For the reading code on RoboBrrd now, we have to identify what hat it is wearing. You can view the code that contains this modification on GitHub here.

Here is an interactive YouTube video adventure demoing the NFC hats!

We have more photos on Flickr documenting the modification, as well as a blog post!


RoboBrrd has been developed sharing the experiences, process, code, and hardware. We strongly believe that this will encourage the learning and exploration of robotics. We love to see how students will modify RoboBrrd to do different things. The educational sustainability of this approach is very exciting too, where older students will be able to mentor the younger students in how to create their own games, modify their RoboBrrd, or fix it if it breaks.

In the next six months, we envision RoboBrrd to be available as a kit that would contain laser-cut pieces, the necessary servos, and shield for Arduino. The software would be offered as a free download on the website. We would spread the word about RoboBrrd on educational sites and through flyers distributed at schools. The parents would purchase this kit for their children to build. If a school would want to order a flock of RoboBrrds for their classroom, we would love to help out.

I have put my heart into this robot, it is always fun to make, fix, mod, and share them with everyone. I hope I'll be able to have the opportunity to share this joy with everyone!


All of my friends on IRC, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook always spread the word about RoboBrrd, and it helps a lot! Every single word of inspiration is great, and I appreciate it very much- so thank you! Here are some sites that have posted about RoboBrrd.

RoboBrrd has also appeared on the Adafruit Show and Tell a few times!