The “Blubber Bot” series of DIY blimps has been a great success. Jed ran a workshop the other day at Machine Project. Sold out, in fact. Everyone was overjoyed. Mark broke out the cooler of ice cream and cones. I think they’re scheduling another one for the people who got locked out.
I’ve been providing Jed with technical and conceptual support for the project and its cousins for a couple of years now. I think this is a great playful interface for learning programming through a simple, fun, interactive toy. Blimps are great fun and placid little house pets. Right now the Blubber Bots have a suite of behaviors that are burned into their microcontroller brain. The next step is to get them closer to the Arduino environment, perhaps. Together with an external library that exposes their various sensors and motors and lights and such all, it would be possible to program your own simple behaviors. Jed’s also talking about a smaller mosquito style blimp with a smaller envelope — maybe the size of a party balloon — with a smaller, surface-mount board for those less inclined to actually do the electronics construction, but perhaps some of the mechanical construction and then writing software for it.
I think that actually constructing something playful, reactive, with personality could go a long way towards teaching art-technology generally, as well as simple principles of microcontrollers, software, playful interface design — all those things. Blinking LEDs are okay, but only go so far in the encouragement department. You have to be prepared to extrapolate blinking LEDs into more playful kinds of interactions and this sort of packs it all into one creature.
Anyway, the Make Magazine people are selling the kit for about $100, which I think is a decent deal. Fun for the whole family and stuff.