Meet the maker of the MeArm robot arm

Screwdrivers and Enthusiasm

Although many might hang up their servos at this point, Ben has much bigger plans for future revisions of the MeArm: "The next stage for the project is to create something completely self contained. The idea would be to have a standalone board with, say, two thumb-sticks on it, based on an Arduino, but set it up so you need no knowledge to use it. Basically, you could build a robot arm with nothing but a screwdriver and some enthusiasm."

"The goal from day one was to create something that's as easily accessible to as many people as possible," says Ben, "not just Raspberry Pi and Arduino experts." As it stands, the MeArm project doesn't have any instructions on hand for Raspberry Pi example projects, but some new documentation is in the works, along with an interface that will allow the MeArm to work with the Scratch graphical programming language.

Luckily for Ben, he's already got an interested party in the all-in-one solution he's working on – none other than the British Science Museum. After he spent the day testing and demonstrating the MeArm to museum visitors, the museum asked if it was possible for him to package up the device for sale in their store!

The demo was a huge success with its participants, who got the chance to try out the MeArm using a joystick controlled by an Arduino, a 16-channel Adafruit servo driver, and Bob Stone's programming library.

Education without Boundaries

Education is another key area of focus for the MeArm and arguably where it might prove most popular. Issues surrounding computer science are hot topics in many countries, not least in the UK, where the entire curriculum has been ripped up and re-written in time for September's new starters. "When I started the project, I had the idea of keeping the cost as low as possible with education in mind. Worldwide education budgets are incredibly tight. When I was at school, we had things like the Turtle robot you could use with the BBC Micro, but it was kept in a room, shown to us, and then put away. I wanted to build something cheap enough for kids to be able to use, play with, and break."

The MeArm is modular and cheap – any breakages are easy to replace. "The structure is cut out of about £1 of acrylic, and if you're savvy, you can get the servos for a couple of pounds each," he explained. You could actually build a classroom robot arm for as little as £10/US$ 15. It wouldn't be out of the question to fill an entire school with the devices on even the most modest ICT budget. The ramifications for schoolchildren in developing countries are massive. The goal of "computer science for all" is a big ambition, but with affordable and open projects like the MeArm, it becomes less a case of how and more a case of when.

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