TechLabs' TL1 SWARM Kit Puts the micro:bit at the Heart of an Educational, Triple-Wheel Robot

Designed to be low-cost yet expandable and surprisingly powerful, the TL1 SWARM comes complete with 30 one-hour lesson plans.

Gareth Halfacree
13 days ago β€’ Robotics
TechLabs' first in-house robot kit has launched, with crowdfunding open now. (πŸ“·: TechLabs)

TechLabs founder Joel Radvanyi has launched a crowdfunding campaign for the TL1 SWARM robotics kit, powered by a BBC micro:bit and targeting educational use in schools, camps, and workshops.

"We set out to create a kit that is low-cost and provides a long 'runway' of possible educational interactions which emphasise the most in-demand skills in the EdTech/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) space today: collaboration, design-thinking and project-oriented approaches," Radvanyi claims of his organization's design, built out of a desire to move away from using third-party hardware in TechLabs lessons.

"We have curated hardware from many vendors, and found that open-source, community supported hardware correlates well with success: The TL1 Kit is made to harness and maximize the power of the micro:bit, one of the most successful community supported, low-cost pieces of educational STEM hardware. We fully expect, even hope, that TL1 owners will use it beyond its function as the brain in our robot.

"We intend for the Micro:Bits and all the components to be reused in thousands of other projects outside the TL1 domain. Best of all, you can attach and use any low-power sensor or output to the micro:bit mounting shield. Think of what you will do with all those old LEDs, light-sensors, buttons, motion-sensors, etc.. that will have a new life integrated to the TL1. This is no ordinary line-following robot."

The TL1 SWARM robot is built on a low-cost, laser-cut wooden chassis with three omni-directional wheels linked to three geared motors. A battery box provides a power source, while a sensor board provides ultrasonic distance sensing. The micro:bit, developed as part of a modern reinvention of the British Broadcasting Corporation's 1980s computer literacy program that saw the launch of the Acorn-designed BBC Micro family of home computers, provides the driving logic along with Bluetooth radio connectivity for remote control plus on-board sensors including an accelerometer and a magnetometer.

The design also features three mechanical expansion slots, nine input/output slots, eight plug-and-play interfaces for servo motors, one spare DC motor interface, two stepper motor interfaces, and optional 3D-printed extras β€” supplied to kit buyers as STL files for home or professional printing. Additionally, TechLabs is releasing an extension for the MakeCode programming environment to support the robot, templates for movement and basic skills, and a 30-hour lesson plan series in English, German, and French languages.

More information is available on the project's Kickstarter campaign page, where early bird awards begin at $100 without or $113 with a micro:bit.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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