Their robot won’t break the world record speed for solving Rubik’s Cube, but William Mutterspaugh and Daryl Stimm (at right) have an even more ambitious goal: using it to get thousands of girls and boys interested in science and technology.
The two recent graduates from the University of California, San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering are already building Ruku Robot, a kit that students in middle school or high school can assemble to get hands-on experience with the fundamentals of robotics, computer science and engineering. [Click here to watch Ruku in action.]
“We built it to be the perfect robotics kit for any STEM classroom,” says Stimm, referring to school programs focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). “It’s a fun, interactive teaching tool for every school’s STEM workshop or after-school STEM program. Our robot is a great way for kids to involved.”
Most school robotics clubs tend to focus on so-called battle bots or race cars, both of which tend to attract primarily boys. “When we did a demo in a middle school, more girls came up afterwards to ask questions,” recalls Mutterspaugh. “That’s when we realized that Ruku could fill a gap because it is equally attractive to female and male students – give both girls and boys a fulfilling STEM experience.”
Hoping to get the Ruku Robot kits into homes and schools as soon as possible, the two alumni launched a crowdfunding campaign on the Kickstarter platform last week, and on Dec. 19, their campaign got a seal of approval in the form of a Kickstarter Staff Pick. So far, backers have contributed nearly $4,000 to the $50,000 goal, with 26 days to go in the campaign.
The team hopes to use any crowdfunding proceeds to convert from building the kits piecemeal using 3D printing to converting to injection mold-based manufacturing to reduce the cost per kit so after-school programs can more easily afford to buy them.
“We started the Kickstarter to hopefully get a bulk order and drive costs down,” added Stimm. “We’re not looking at making money; we’re looking at increasing the number of schools that can have access to our kit, because we want to get these into as many schools as possible.”
Stimm, whose day job is at GoPro, came up with the original concept. In senior year he enrolled in a project-based course on embedded systems, Computer Science and Engineering 145, taught by CSE professor Ryan Kastner. He teamed with electrical engineering major Mutterspaugh and computer engineering senior Jonas Kabingting, and they built the first Ruku in just eight weeks using the Prototyping Lab in the Qualcomm Institute.
“We wanted a project that would use computer vision and robotics, which was my interest, and needed William’s knowledge in electrical engineering,” said Stimm, who finished his computer-science degree in June (B.S. ’14). “We also wanted to use a Raspberry Pi platform to serve as the brain of Ruku.” The Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized, single-board computer.