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How mCookie's DIY-computer tech brings Legos to life

Microduino’s mCookie is its second-generation product that incorporates building blocks to make DIY tech more approachable.

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Do-it-yourself technology could still be considered a niche hobby. Building your own software or hardware involves tools and knowledge that most do not have. But what if making a robot was as simple as stacking Legos?

That is exactly what Microduino has done. Based off its previous Kickstarter-funded project for the original Microduino board and add-on modules, which use the open-source electronics platform Arduino, the company launched a new Kickstarter campaign for its second-generation product, mCookie, a smaller version that snaps together as easily as Legos do.

“Before [the] Microduino series, when people were trying to create something, you would have to use a bright board or deal with lots of wires or resistors, [and so on], and you’d have to do soldering work to make all the connections. So, it’s really not easy for makers or anyone trying to build their own products,” says Bin Feng, co-founder and chief executive officer of Microduino. “So that’s why we invented our first generation Microduino. Basically, it’s very small, stackable electronic modules for different functions, like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS, and so on. So you can just easily stack them together to make a connection or to make a product.”

But the mCookie, which has already met its $40,000 goal as of Tuesday, is looking to make do-it-yourself tech even more appealing.

Run on the open-sourced, kid-friendly programming language Scratch, a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, each color-coded mCookies has a specific core function. Mr. Feng says these pieces could together create everything from drones to 3-D printers.

The modules all snap together using magnets, which stack on top of the main processor, and can be added onto any Lego creation you have at home. (Yes, with the right additions, you have the potential to make your Lego Star Wars collection come to life.) 

“With the new generation, you can easily place two modules fairly close to each other and the magnets will stick them together to make the connection,” says Feng. “And with the nature of magnets, you cannot make a wrong connection, so even kids can easily play with it and have fun building their own projects or devices or toys.”

The mCookie is a product designed to “lower the barriers of entry” into DIY projects even further than its predecessor, he says. Unlike the original model, which used metal pins to lock piece in place that could be easily bent, the mCookie is a more durable, magnetic solution so designers of all ages can learn how to build their own software and hardware.

“[We believe that] everyone is an inventor [and that] everyone is a creator," he says. "So [we asked ourselves] how can we lower the barriers to entry for anyone? For kids? For educators? For designers? That’s really our goal."

Microduino wants to make building technology a more approachable pastime, and saw huge potential in incorporating Legos, which many families already own, in with their technology. Feng adds that by stacking mCookies onto the toy, it creates “endless possibilities” for people to use their imaginations. The Kickstarter video demonstrates the different ways inventors of all ages can build, which includes creating a music box, Lego car, and a high-flying quadcopter.

The Microduino series could be considered a "for dummies" version of Raspberry Pi, which began this modern microcomputer trend, and C.H.I.P., one of the latest in a line of inexpensive DIY computers. These types of products have pushed the do-it-your-self market to simplify the building process and pushed down the price of microcomputers (C.H.I.P starts at only $9.) But while products like the Raspberry Pi set a new standards for at home tech building, they are still devices that many find alien, which is why the incorporation of Legos with the mCookie is a way to make technology seem less scary.

Microduino’s first product was utilized in Chinese universities, where the company held workshops about its product. Feng hopes the mCookie will be an essential tool for educators around the world. Microduino is currently expanding its partnership with schools in the US and Finland.

Founded in 2012 by four friends, the company now consists of 20 employees in the US and China who support a community of “more than 10,000 makers, designers, engineers, teachers, parents and children worldwide.” The first-generation product led to the community building more 500 products, and because the mCookie is even easier to program and connect, Feng believes that number will grow.

Microduino’s mission statement could be summed up by its slogan, which was borrowed from Albert Einstein: creativity is contagious.

“I believe using the mCookie is a really fun thing. People can enjoy [building and creating] their own stuff,” says Feng. “Creativity is contagious, and we hope that with our efforts, we can help you to pass it along.

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