Making Makers - Walking Away from Black Boxes
This is why I teach Robotics with a mind towards avoiding the “Black Box Effect.” This effect, as coined by Ernest Manning’s David Eady, is where the machines in your lab resemble black boxes and when you plug them in they work...just like magic, or fairy-dust, or the infinite improbability drive.
Another problem I’ve run into is a large number of people saying, “I can’t do that in my school.” This is usually reserved for technology and Maker type activities that are perceived to be either too difficult to implement or too dangerous to do. I won’t speak to the activities that are too dangerous, but too difficult is a terrible excuse.
What if I told you that it would only take a bit of research and a basic mind for Science to bring electronics into your classroom?
What if I told you that it would involve no $400 black boxes (I’m talking about you LEGO NXT)?
Welcome to the world of open source hardware. My lab focuses on the Arduino system, but many things are being released for free under the Creative Commons Licensing system.
The Arduino is an open source hardware platform that can be bought for around $20CAN with electronic kits going for $60-$100CAN. The system itself is quite easy to use and has a strong online community. The programming software is, likewise, free and has great online sample code and tutorials.
Becoming an expert is as easy as floating around one of the fantastic Creative Commons tutorials sites put on by Sparkfun and Adafruit. In fact, this is how I would recommend getting your start. Pick an easy tutorial, grab some parts and start hacking.
Trust me, very rarely will someone tell you, “you can’t do that,” if they see that you built the technology yourself.
Black boxes need not apply.