ChickBot LED strip

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

There’s more to ChickBot than driving around doing ‘stuff’ – unwire those stepper motors, plug in the LED strip and you can start counting in binary.

And once that’s got old (about 30 seconds), you can make it do Knight Rider swooshing (see video). Or use it for a number of games, like stopping the LED in a certain position. Or as a bargraph.

So as well as learning about binary maths (a core concept in Computer Science), it has a multitude of possibilities.

Pricing is yet to be determined, probably around £4 for a built unit, a lot less for a solder it yourself option and a tiny amount for just the PCB.

Code will be uploaded to the Vault shortly.



Here’s a short video of the LED strip in action:

Background progress April-May 2016

microbit-passive-infra-red-sensorWe are beavering away in the background on so many fronts we don’t know which way we are spinning some days!
As well as a whole pile of technical work and documentation for the BBC micro:bit, we are gearing up for the release of the Raspberry Pi ChickBot kit.

Our intern programmer is doing his exams but will be back, possibly full-time, in a months time for the summer to crank out a whole pile of materials – we’ve got lots of projects we’ve tried out but it takes hours, sometimes days, to turn them in to a complete, tested package. We’ve got some more sensors and output devices in the pipeline too. We’ve pictured the passive infra-red sensor that will detect if someone walks past it!

So, patience will be rewarded when all these mini-projects come to fruition

IET Robot Triathlon at the Derby Silk Mill

Here’s some pictures and a short behind the scenes film of the crew filming some young robotiers at the Robot Triathlon on the 12th March 2016.

ChickBot builders at IET Robot Triathlon 1

Zayne & Tom helping budding roboteers


The ChickBot stand at IET Robot Triathlon

Putting some finishing touches to the display


ChickBot builders at IET Robot Triathlon 2

Roboteers of all ages


Easter 2016 update

ChickBot Easter EggLots of under the hood activity here at ChickBot headquarters along with a little R&R for the team – I even got the chance to fly my glider!

We were very happy to see that Marks & Spencers wanted to join in the ChickBot fun with their Chirpy Charlie Chick Easter egg. A colleague tracked one down but until we’ve finished all the other chocolate, Charlie is safe!

Our main technical activity at the moment is rounding off the Raspberry Pi kit and getting the new BBC micro:bit design finalised. We’ve also been contacting schools to see how we can best serve their needs with all the different ways the ChickBot systems can be used.

Say hello to ChickBot micro:bit

ChickBot micro.bitWhilst right in the middle of final preparations for the IET Robot Triathlon this Saturday, 12th March, our ever cheerful postman drops off a small parcel containing a BBC micro:bit for me to try out.

So after a couple of hours with the soldering iron I’ve got it connected up to a slightly altered controller board and program it to drive some motors.

After a few minutes of wiring in some line follower sensors, I’ve got the ChickBot micro:bit happily tracing a line round my old Lego line following track.

The BBC micro:bit is a cool bit of tech that hopefully will ignite some inspiration in to Year 7’s when they get their free one soon. Once they’ve got to grips with the basics, we’ll be here to provide a low cost platform for robotics, sensors and outputs.

Video and picture gallery online

Been rather tied up with the annual Man-flu fest in the office and the village Panto – oh yes I was, oh no I wasn’t.

But I have had a chance to record some video and take some pictures.

Video here and pictures here.

I’ve also been beta testing the kits with my Year 5 & 6 Code Clubbers and we are gearing up for the IET Robot Triathlon at The Silk Mill in Derby on Sat, 12th March so it’s all go here at ChickBot central.

ChickBot Raspberry Pi beta build

ChickBot Raspberry Pi betaAfter a couple of wet Sundays, the breadboard prototype has been turned into a PCB and ChickBot Pi lives!

It boasts all the same features as the Arduino board – so pushbutton, LED, analog input, drivers for both stepper motors or standard motors, piezo buzzer. However, the analog support doesn’t run to digital output.

Importantly, to help keep the production of activity packs simple, the terminal blocks are laid out exactly the same as the Arduino driver board. This will speed up the creation of worksheets as we will just have to concentrate on the two different code bases.

To support the Raspberry Pi, there is a voltage regulator so that the Pi can be powered by the board’s battery pack.

The picture shows a Pi Zero with a WiFi dongle plugged into it. This provides the rather fun facility that you can connect to the Pi to type commands directly into it – either at the command line or using VNC screen sharing software. At a later point we’ll conjure up a phone app to allow you to remotely control your ChickBot Pi.

We’ve used the original Pi connector 26 pin header for two reasons:

  1. We want to support all those original Pi’s
  2. Space – 40 pins would make the board rather wide.

As you can see, it’s simple enough to have the cable go from a 26 pin header to a 40 pin header. We’ll be providing both in the box to cover all options.

This picture is also a shining example of why you should not layout a PCB whilst under the influence of a heavy cold. Be assured the next revision will have the connector turned through 180º so the Pi doesn’t get covered by the cable.

For those wondering, the voltage regulator, which can get quite warm, is underneath, away from fingers small or large.

IET Robot Triathlon

Can you build & program a robot to complete the Institution of Engineering & Technology’s Robot Triathlon?

Easy enough to try at home, so we’ll add them over the next few weeks to The Vault.

But for those in the East Midlands, UK, there’s a competition being held at The Silk Mill, Derby, on Saturday, 12th March 2016. ChickBot was previewed at the Maker Faire at The Silk Mill back in October last year so it’s a venue we are familiar with. We’ll be back on the 12th with a stack of ChickBot’s for people to build and play with.

IET_line_follower_example_trackFor anyone else, you can join in at home and take your skills further. The three events are:

  • Line following – but not for the faint hearted – the track twists & turns and the line crosses itself at points.
  • Drag race – how fast can you make your robot go?
  • Maze time trial – navigate around the walls of a maze in the fastest time.

The event info can be found here. Competitor entries are now closed but you can come along & watch, try your hands at programming some Lego Mindstorms, and best of all, build a ChickBot (maybe take it home for the schools price, £10!)

Raspberry Pi Prototype

We are pleased to announce we have ChickBot being controlled by a Raspberry Pi. Ta Dah!


The actual Pi in this picture is an older Model B+ with WiFi on USB. This version ended up with two power supplies so it could do WiFi and run the stepper motors. By setting up remote screen (VNC) access, you can program and control it from your computer screen! There is the same stepper motor interface chip as in the Arduino model plus a chip to provide analog input (which in the picture has a light sensor on the breadboard). There’s also the piezo buzzer/speaker. The PCB will also incorporate the pushbutton and an LED, but we ran out of space on the breadboard and it’s a known solution, so it’s all good.

We have three original Pi’s (256Mb), this B+ (512Mb), a couple of Pi2 B+ and three Pi Zero’s to play around with the form factor – we’ll definitely only support the original 26 pin header as it provides enough IO for ChickBot and it makes it backwards compatible with older Pi’s, some we suspect may be given a new leash of life with a ChickBot setup, some may come out the draw they are hiding in, neglected and un-used and there are many many original Pi’s around the world that we wouldn’t want to leave out the fun.

The next step is to do a complete a Sudoku whilst doing a Rubik’s Cube – or put another way, layout the tracks for a single sided through hole PCB – again a design decision that makes ChickBot affordable and accessible for as many people as possible.

For anyone wondering, the reason we got to the Pi second was that we wanted to validate the £10/$15/€13 price point for a complete programmable robot. We anticipate that we can hit that price point for everything but the Pi. We have to include the cabling, analog chip and some power components but with the Pi Zero in the mix, schools should be able to bring it in at around £12/$18/€16 – which considering you get a computer with HDMI display and can be put on WiFi, is pretty incredible!

In the background you can see some casters being glued together – now in ChickBot orange-yellow!