With over 6,500 units sold worldwide, the Robox 3D printer from UK-based CEL is in the business to make 3D printing easier and bring it to the masses. What better way to do that than to partner up with a company that’s already introducing inspiring technology and startup kits to thousands of UK schools with a mission to empower the next generation of engineers.
Kitronik is a fellow UK company dedicated to bringing design and technology products and resources to students and their teachers. Starting out with a range of electronic kits, tailored to the national curriculum and supported by teaching notes that would make it easy for teachers to implement this new breed of technology into the classroom, Kitronik has brought everything from amplifier kits to e-textiles to secondary education students.
Kitronik has been doing this for 10 years, providing over a million project kits to 3,500 schools in the UK. In its latest initiative, the company has turned its attention to 3D printing and partnered with CEL to put the Robox in 5,000 UK schools and show children how they can create real functional objects.
“We’ve looked at 3D printers for quite a while,” explained Kitronik Co-Founder Kevin Spurr. “We went into classrooms and they were having a lot of problems with them. We stayed away because it didn’t seem to be at a point where we would want to be involved. The Robox printer overcomes a lot of those issues.”
The Robox is a simple, accessible desktop printer. Launched in 2012 on the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign, it is one of the most easy-to-use machines on the market and features a set of unique capabilities which make it the ideal introductory 3D printing tool for the education market.
For the school environment, safety is paramount and Robox features a lockable lid that prevents younger users from touching the heated print bed or melted plastic. In addition to safety, the printer is probably the closest to “plug and print” you could hope for with minimal setup and simplistic software that is as easy as; select file, choose colour and settings and print. These features, along with its affordability and reliability, make Robox the perfect companion to the D&T projects being implemented in schools.
“What we’re interested in is the mechanical side,” Chris Elsworthy, CEO of CEL and creator of the Robox 3D printer, commented. “A 3D printer makes real things so children can take their design, make something real and have a real life working product without that huge development which you would expect.”
A key piece of kit that has the potential to add a new dimension to how students learn is the BBC micro:bit, a groundbreaking pocket-sized computer that allows children to get creative with technology. As part of the BBC’s ‘Make it Digital’ initiative, the project is a collaboration between 29 partners including Kitronik, Barclays, Lancaster University, Microsoft, Nordic Semiconductor, Samsung, ScienceScope, Technology Will Save Us and the Wellcome Trust, to give every year 7 child in the UK a BBC micro:bit for free by Spring 2016.
In what Kevin describes as a “piece of hardware for the 21st Century”, the device is a small electronic board (PCB) which can be plugged into a PC or connected to other hardware to teach children how to programme and make things like stepometers and even wearables.
“The BBC micro:bit brings this stuff to a lower level of understanding to kickstart people’s inspiration into programming. Traditionally you can do a lot if you’re a powerful programmer, but often getting started is difficult,” Chris commented.
“It’s very easy for students to get into when they start with the simple graphical programming language,” Kevin added. “They can then progress to more advanced programming languages too, so they can learn textual programming which is the next stepping point, but they don’t need that to get started.”
Right now Kitronik is busy putting together resources for schools to show how they can implement the technology in the classroom. Educating teachers about the importance of nurturing these skills and ways of doing so within the curriculum is a huge focus. Finding approaches to delivering these projects and having successful outcomes within a typical school day is a big part of the challenge.
Chris explained: “You talk to kids about 3D printing, developing new ideas and electronics and the scope they have for new ideas is just immense. You show them what a 3D printer can do and they just leap on it. The blockade comes from adults and teachers because they’re new to this technology, it’s much harder to make them adopt it and have inspiration in this field.”
Kevin added: “Teachers want something the kids can take home and show their parents. It excites the parents about what they’re learning at schools. You need that success at the end of that and that’s what we’re trying to help with, making that more deliverable in a classroom with the time frames they have.”
One of the key messages from this partnership is about placing value on giving young people the option to explore careers that are not traditionally academic. Encouraging children who are practically minded, full of imagination and enjoy making stuff provides them with the stepping-stone to allow them to shine in the classroom and develop much sought after skills for the working world.
“Just being able to talk to people about how important I find engineering and what you can achieve from it and having a whole generation of kids coming up knowing that really excites me,” Chris commented.
Kevin added: “I’m sure there’s a really good pool of students out there with the ability to go on and learn about these subjects but they’re choosing to do other things. I don’t know why so many people aren’t choosing engineering – it’s one of the most enjoyable things you could do as a career. Anything to get kids excited about choosing a career path where they produce and make things is a good thing.”