Review of LilyPad Sewable Electronics Kit

 

Colleengraves.org (6)

This post is a long time coming! To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Lilypad Electronics (THANK YOU, Leah Buechley!!!), I’m reviewing SparkFun’s Lilypad Sewable Electronics Kit. This introductory kit came out last spring and SPOILER ALERT- it is a must-have for beginners interested in sewing circuits. (Educators and hobbyists alike!)

2.png

What’s in it?

So what’s inside the Lilypad Sewable Electronics Kit ?

Picture from SparkFun

Inside the kit, is a full color glorious booklet with detailed drawings and instructions for four beginner projects. Beginners will learn to start sewing a simple circuit with a Glowing Pin, move to a light up mask made with a parallel circuit, then soldier on to sewing pre-programmed microcontrollers with the light-up plushie and night-sensing pennant.

The kit contains:

  • Full color instruction booklet- IT’s BEAUTIFUL!
  • Templates for all projects- compact and easy to follow/understand
  • Lilypad Coin Cell Battery Holder (switched)
  • E-sewing Protosnap- A rad connected, snappable board with LEDS connected to switches and battery holder.
  • LilyMini Protosnap  – The LilyMini microcontroller is connected to a button, a sensor, and two pairs of LEDs. Since it’s pre-wired and connected, users can see what the behavior is like before sewing to a project. (Without having to alligator clip components together.)
  • Sewable Lilypad LEDs
  • 2 glorious spools of Conductive Thread
  • Sewing needles, felt, stuffing, embroidery thread; basically everything you need to make the four projects in the kit!

3.jpg

What can I make with it?

There are four projects outlined in the kit. My goal was to make each, but of course I cheated a bit. Above is a twinkling stuffie I designed to inspire my high school sewing circuit club. Below is a stuffie sewn with LilyMini when it was in the pre-production phase. (I followed the instructions for the light up pennant, but moved the circuit around a bit and decided to make a stuffie instead of a hanging pennant.) It utilizes the light sensor and glistens in like morning dew in the sunshine.

Two summers ago, I made this blinging badge to wear during my Maker Education panel at the Capitol Hill Maker Faire. It utilizes a pre-programmed LilyMini and was a super fun one hour project.

I dug the illuminated mask that came in the kit, but thought it would be fun to make a cosplay style LEGO mask. This LEGO Robin mask template can even double as a Minion mask!

4.jpgMy next project was to make some fan art in the form of an embroidered/illuminated Schwartz ring in honor of my favorite movie, SpaceBalls. I re-programmed the LilyMini, embroidered a Yogurt fist with ring, but stalled out in the final steps of the project because we were moving. So that project is still in progress, but I’ll share it when it’s finished.

All in all, a lot of learning is packed into this compact kit! One can learn to sew pre-programmed electronics and hopefully have enough experience at the end to start creating and programming their own e-textiles.

One of my favorite things about the kit are the inclusion of the pre-wired protosnaps.

Here’s a video of the pre-wired LilyMini Protosnap, so you can bask in it’s blinky glory:

Bottom Line

At around 100 bucks, it’s too much to buy a ton of these kits to run a class workshop, BUT it is a great kit for educators who want to start sewing circuits and aren’t sure where to start. It takes the guess work out of what materials and components to buy. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. If I could, I’d probably buy a class set of the instruction booklet because it is JUST SO RAD. Then buy components based on what my students wanted to make.

The introductory projects are fun, engaging, and inspiring. Plus, each project is open enough to function as inspiration for more difficult projects that you or your students can design and create if you don’t want to follow the templates.

I love the pre-wired protosnap concept. It allows makers to see the functioning circuit before sewing their own circuit traces. I think it’s helpful in allowing creators to come up with their own design, but it’s also helpful in teaching those to new to electronics the concept of wiring a circuit.

As an aside: For my own sewing circuit club, I bought the e-textiles lab pack. This pack holds enough resources for 10 makers to create LilyTwinkle projects. The only downside to the lab pack is that it doesn’t have a programmable board included.

If you are wanting to try sewing circuits, you can buy yourself most of this Lilypad swag from Sparkfun with their Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale that has almost everything at 20% off.

More Sewing Circuit Resources:

Here’s a running list of my sewing circuit resources.

Awesome Sewing Circuit Resources from others:

Plus, some more rad e-textile resources from my favorite makers.

Want More?

I’ve got a few projects in my head and am considering writing an introductory sewing circuit book, would you be interested in such a resource, dear readers?

 

Advertisements

Plum Geek Wink Robot Review- More Love for Arduino

colleengravesposts-10In my last post, I discussed my laborious journey toward learning to program Arduino projects. If only I’d had a wink robot by Plum Geek! This cute bug-looking robot was actually designed to help educators teach students the Arduino programming environment (see Wink for educators).

The lessons developed by Plum Geek are a great way to teach students the basics of Arduino, help them begin programming LEDS and motors, and then start learning harder CS concepts like: conditional statements, Serial.print functions, sensors, and more!

Check out the great lessons here!

The big difference in learning Arduino this way, is that with this pre-built robot, students could focus on learning programming before learning to put together electronic components to build their own robots. Even though one of the things I love most about Arduino is the hands-on element, I’ve found that teaching kids to hook up components AND learn a programming language is a bit too much to ask at first.

Cost 

69.95- Compared to other robots I’ve previously reviewed, I think this is relatively low cost.

Pairing

This is not Bluetooth pairing like other robots, but of course, you are programming in the Arduino IDE on a computer, so you need to hook up Wink to load programs and watch how changing the code changes the robot’s movements! Most standard laptops are able to download Arduino, but if you can’t download the software (ie you have a Chromebook), you won’t be able to program this robot. (For a long time there was a great site called Codebender that allowed you to program Arduino boards via the web, but it is shutting down.)

Functionality

For any Arduino project, it can be complicated to download the free Arduino software  and then install the proper libraries, and FTDI driver (if you don’t have installation rights). However, Plum Geek does have some great video tutorials to walk you through this process. If you are new to Arduino, it’s important to understand the Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment aka open-sourced software) and the idea of libraries.

You can install “libraries” specific to boards (like Wink or the Hummingbird Robotics kit) and components (like Neopixels). It’s basically a library of “sketches” (which is a term for program) that you can easily upload to your Arduino board. For those new to Arduino, the Arduino board is a microcontroller that controls other electronic elements. When making and developing Arduino projects, it is common to hook up motors, sensors, LEDs, and control them with Arduino sketches. The great thing about Wink is that it is pre-built with an Arduino board, and LEDS, motors, and all components are already soldered together. So this little robot will still teach students how to: program LEDs, control movement with motors, incorporate sensors, and  begin to work with and understand conditional statements.  (Which your kids are already learning if they are working with Scratch!)

Best Age Group

You won’t like me saying this, but it really depends on the kid! I’ve taught some willing 5th graders how to control an LED utilizing the Arduino IDE, but I’ve also had high school students look at this learning environment in fear!

For schools, it really depends on your school culture. At Lamar Middle School, many of my students came to me already knowing how to use Scratch Programming, so looking at code in Arduino wasn’t too far of a stretch. However, at my current school, most of my students have not heard of Scratch! (EEEK! Which is why I’m currently catching up students by teaching all incoming freshmen to create some basic games. )  So if your students are already coding in Python and working with Raspberry Pi then your upper elementary students COULD work with the Arduino IDE. However, I see this robot more suitable for middle school to high school aged students.

(Note: Plum Geek’s webpage does say age 7 could complete the first few lessons. I’ll have to try them on my 7 year old to test that out….)

Usability

Once I figured out the correct way to hook up my robot for uploading programs, it was simple to upload code and test my bot! (But be advised that if you hook it up the wrong way, you could burn out this little guy!) When following the lessons, it’s pretty easy to play with the code, problem solve, and even start debugging when Wink doesn’t do what you want him to!

Flexibility

This robot is specifically made to help students learn Arduino. Even though it’s purpose is to teach students about coding, it can still be tied to math and physics concepts.

Longevity

As long as you don’t hook up the programming cable the wrong way or step on your robot because you think it’s a real bug, then this is a quick and sturdy little robot. See my videos below to see it in action!

 

Final Thoughts

If you are wanting to get a lot of students involved in Arduino programming either as a class or an afterschool robotics club, then I think this is a great starter robot for you!

I have to add a shout out to Brian Pichman of Evolve Project for telling me about these little guys! Thanks for sharing, Brian!