Shaun Shue

Not Impossible Submission / Awards

Submission:

When the least expensive tinker kits are $40 and require a computer, lots of kids are left behind. We made one that’s less than $6.

STEM careers are in demand, well paying, and only going to grow. But asking who will get those careers and who will start those companies exposes a Dickensian divide in education between the haves and have-nots. Bill Gates was finishing his first program at 13; whereas one of my brightest, most enthusiastic programming students (who once mentioned she had to eat fast or her brothers ate everything) didn’t have access to a computer until 10th grade.

This is something Mya has also known; as director of LA Makerspace, she works with LA City and County Public Libraries to help kids learn robotics, coding, e-textiles and stop motion animation—to give early exposure to STEAM disciplines. The libraries use expensive electronics kits that need to stay at the library, and the kids’ projects are ultimately disassembled. They miss out on the pride of taking their creations home, and having the kits for further tinkering/learning.

The libraries could give kits away, if they were less than $6. And LA Makerspace could coordinate volunteers, if the kits were intuitive enough for a non-technical adult to facilitate, and didn’t require skilled assembly.

Enter the Arduniño.

We came up with a stand-alone electronics kit that teaches circuits and logic, built around an Arduino clone ($3) and half-breadboard ($1). Changing around jumper wires ($0.22) changes pre-loaded functions on the microcontroller, and the kids use buttons ($0.05) and alligator clips ($0.31) to interact with LEDs ($0.04), a buzzer ($0.09) and 7-segment display ($0.68). They can play Simon, Rock-Paper-Scissors, build carnival games, recreate the Operation board game, and more things our adult brains can’t yet fathom. Once they outgrow the pre-loaded functions, they graduate to learning Scratch-for-Arduino programming on library computers. All this, while using real-world breadboards and electronics skills.

In Born a Crime, Trevor Noah writes “We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”

We envision all kids getting to play with electronics and programming, regardless of their means or background. When kids get to play, they get to experiment. And when they get to experiment, they build new things and develop new skills. It starts early.

Awards ceremony:

I wasn’t selected, but as a thank you, I was given tickets to attend the awards. There were a few of the technologies in development on display. I waited for the body music experience, which was designed for people with hearing impairment, and judging by other peoples’ reactions it was great, but it went non-operational right as I was next in line.

I had worked on a tactile wireless metronome for dancers with hearing impairment. Handling synchronization, intermittent connectivity, as well as powering a device constantly delivering strong pulses are unique challenges to solve in aggregate. So I know translating a song to vibrations in a one-size-fits-all wireless package with higher data throughput is more complicated still. I wish them the best in development.

The ceremony itself was enjoyable. They put a lot of work into the video production, and the quality showed. My favorite of the winners was Hotspot, which brings Internet access to text messaging, with a server daemon that receives SMS texts, brings up the requested site, then returns it in SMS format. Bringing information to places where infrastructure ends at basic cellular service is huge, and it has the makings of the SMS branchless banking impact.

The night closed out with Dan Wilson singing Closing Time, with storied intercuts about fatherhood. A great entertainer to close out a great evening. 10/10