The Ultra Affordable Educational Robot Project

2013 Design Challenge: Robot Enhancements, Software, and Teaching Plans

Sponsored by: The African Robotics Network (AFRON) and IEEE Robotics and Automation Society


Robots excite people of all ages. Their physical behavior often inspires primary and secondary student interest in computers, science, math, and engineering more broadly. However, existing platforms are often too expensive for students. This project aims to collaboratively create an Ultra-Affordable Robot (an order of magnitude less expensive than existing products) to inspire young people around the world.

The 2012 Design Challenge emphasized an ultra-low-cost robot hardware platform in three categories:
tethered, roaming, and all-in-one. The winning designs were all highly creative, and the Grand Prize in the tethered category went to Lollybot, a brilliant design by Tom Tilley of Thailand, costing just under 10 USD and incorporating two functional Lollipops. Starting with a generic dual-shock game controller, Lollybot can be built using commonly available tools anywhere in the world.

In the 2013 Design Challenge, our goal is to create incentives for designers to select any of the winning designs from 2012 and work on enhancements in one or more of 3 categories:
1) hardware 2) software, or 3)curriculum.
This year, we are placing a special emphasis on Lollybot, encouraging next steps in the 3 categories:
1) enhance the Lollybot hardware design, simplifying assembly, increasing robustness, adding useful features, 2) extend and improve the open-source software for Lollybot, and 3) create exciting
lesson plans using the Lollybot.
In addition, there is a special "community challenge" for participants who organize a robotics workshop for students using
one of the winning designs, with or without enhancements.

Competition Categories

1) Hardware enhancements
Propose design enhancements to make the chosen robot more effective, robust, re-usable, and even easier to assemble or manufacture. For example, possible design enhancements for the Lollybot include:
· Improved robustness (particularly of wheels and bumpers) to allow for more reliable behavior
· Ability to design and switch in and out different sensor circuits, such as the current line sensor circuit.
· Ability to control the robot with an old feature phone, a Raspberry Pi, or other low-cost computing platform

2) Software enhancements
Further open-source software development to add functionality to the chosen robot, and more importantly, make it easy for high school students with no prior programming experience to learn how to program new behaviors for the robot. For Lollybot, this could include, for example, a drag-and-drop programming interface, or a software interface to introduce basic features of JavaScript for programming the robot.

3) Curriculum
Outline 20+ hours of educational activity using the chosen robot. The educational value could come from the process of assembling the robot and from programming it. However, at least 15 hours of the curriculum should be re-usable, meaning that it can be used with an already-assembled robot. This ensures that learning continues after the robot is assembled for the first time. The lesson plans can assume a basic age-appropriate science and math background, but should not assume any background in robotics or prior experience programming or using tools such as a soldering iron -- it should help students learn what they need to know.

4) Community challenge
Build one of the winning designs in collaboration with students (primary, secondary or early college), documenting the process and the learning experience for the students.


Each category attracts a grand prize of $500, and a runner-up prize of $250. A single entry can win in more than one category. Additionally, there will be "honorable mentions" for other creative submissions.


The competition is open to individuals, teams of individuals, or institutions from anywhere in the world. We welcome submissions from hobbyists and students, in addition to professionals. For the community challenge, entries are particularly encouraged from participants working with students in Africa.

Submission Deadline

15 January 2014. Winners will be announced in February 2014

What to submit, and how

Create one HTML webpage with the following information:

1. A high-level description of your hardware enhancements, software enhancements, curriculum and/or student workshop.

2. For hardware enhancements, include:
a. A list of parts, their sources (include URLs if applicable), availability, and prices.

  • Note that your parts list should be complete, including things like required adhesive, screws etc.
  • Note that salvaged parts are allowed, if these salvaged parts are commonly available in your particular context. Think of this list of parts as the starting point if someone in a similar context to you wanted to reproduce your robot.
  • Your parts list should include any consumables (e.g. batteries) and their associated cost and replacement frequency. This is a caution to think of sustainability.

b. A list of tools/equipment needed to create the robot, and estimated prices
c. Relevant drawings with dimensions
d. Step-by-step instructions for creating your robot
e. A description of any experiments conducted
f. Pictures and videos of your robot in action

3. For software, include:
a. A link to documentation (a "user guide") for your software
b. If relevant, screenshots of your software
c. A link to the open-source software.

4. For curriculum, include:
a. The target age range / level (e.g. primary school – approximately below age 12, junior high or middle school – approximately between ages 12 and 14, and senior high school – approximately between ages 14 and 18)
b. The learning goals
c. Materials needed
d. Activities

5. For the community challenge (student workshops), include:
a. The robot that was used
b. Information about participants (number, age range, location)
c. Sources of parts for robot-building
d. Description of activities
e. Description of outcomes
f. Pictures and/or video

Please share with us your intent to participate via this form
When you are done, you can then make your final submission via the submission form , which asks for your name, contact information, and the URL of your webpage. Note that by participating in this competition, you agree to have your designs or curriculum published on the Internet (and attributed to you, of course).


Hardware enhancements will be assessed using the following criteria:
· Robustness & effectiveness
· Cost (try to stay below 20 USD, excluding computing)
· Versatility
· Ease of assembly

Software will be assessed using the following criteria:
· Effectiveness
· Ease of use
· Quality of documentation

Curricula will be assessed using the following criteria:
· Clarity
· Potential to help students learn
· Potential to engage students' interest

The community challenge will be assessed using the following criteria:
· Completeness of documentation of the experience
· Creativity
· Student impact


The African Robotics Network (AFRON) is a community of institutions, organizations and individuals engaged in robotics in Africa. AFRON seeks to promote communication and collaborations that will enhance robotics-related education, research, and industry on the continent. Since it launched May 2012, AFRON has 380 regular and affiliated members from 51 countries around the world.



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