UCSD Alumni-Created Robot Encourages STEM Education

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Two recent graduates from the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, Daryl Stimm and William Mutterspaugh, have created the Ruku Robot, the first Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized, single-board computer, Rubik’s Cube-solving robot that can be assembled by students of any age and skill level from a kit.

The goal of Stimm and Mutterspaugh in the invention of the Ruku Robot is to use the building process to further engage both boys and girls primarily in middle school and high school in subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A funding campaign was launched on Dec. 17, 2014, on the Kickstarter platform with the hope of raising $50,000 to get the Ruku Robot kits into homes and schools more quickly. On Dec. 19, the campaign was labeled a Kickstarter Staff Pick, and 5 percent of the funding was achieved on the first day. So far, 44 patrons have donated nearly $7,000. There are 10 days left in the campaign before it will be deactivated on the site, but Stimm is hopeful that more donations will be made in the last week.

“Donations have been coming in steadily so far,” Stimm told the UCSD Guardian in an interview. “We’ve even had orders placed internationally.”

Currently the parts of the kit are being produced piece by piece through the means of a 3-D printer. If the funding is achieved, the intent of the project is to switch to injection mold-based manufacturing, which would reduce the cost of the kits and make them more affordable for school STEM programs. The cost of the kit is currently at $200, but the team hopes to bring it down to $99.

Stimm, who is also an employee at GoPro, came up with the original concept — later recruiting Mutterspaugh, an electrical engineering graduate, and Jonas Kabingting, a graduate of computer science. The three met during Stimm’s senior year at UCSD in CSE 145, a project-based course on embedded systems, taught by CSE Professor Ryan Kastner. The first Ruku Robot was then built eight weeks later in the Prototyping Lab at the Qualcomm Institute.

During the summer of 2014, the group took the project to the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Sciences at UCSD, a summer program open to high school students who have demonstrated interest and achievements in STEM fields. There, the Ruku Robot gained significant attention from both boys and girls.

“One of our main goals is to get girls interested in STEM,” said Stimm. “We think the Ruku is really great because it’s not a tank or car like the other traditional robots for boys. The Rubik’s Cube is a gender neutral toy.”

After the Ruku Robot is assembled, the actual process of solving the Rubik’s Cube is completed using an iPhone application that detects the colors of the cube and determines the fastest way to solve it. The instructions are then sent to the motors of the robot and the Rubik’s cube is solved in as little time as 20 seconds.

The robot’s circuit board is comprised of a universal motor driver and six programmable stepper-motor drivers. The brain of the robot is the Raspberry Pi.

The Ruku Robot can further be used as tool for educators as it comes with prepared teacher and student lesson plans.

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