Making Robots Accessible to Everyone

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 from 4:45 – 5:30pm in Burnside


I've been looking for an affordable, flexible, easy to learn robotics platform for years that I could use to teach kids the basics of programming/electronics/robotics. Last Fall, I finally found it.


Adeilton Oliveira, an electronics engineer in Brazil, has written code that allows the Arduino microcontroller platform to use the output from CTI Blocos to control its outputs. CTI Blocos is an open source block based programming environment based on the logo language. Think of Blocos as a very lean version of Scratch that is designed to control a robot (or anything else electro-mechanical that you can think of) rather than multimedia on your computer.

I built a prototype for my (then) 4-year old son to play with. He doesn’t know the ins and outs of If-Then-Else statements yet, but he was able to drag-and-drop the motor control blocks and download the programs into the robot within the first hour. I then built a set of 6 robots and taught an after-school class to 4-8 grade students at Faubion in NE Portland.

The software wasn’t quite ready for prime time when I started teaching the class, so I was very fortunate that Jim Larson, a software/hardware engineer here in Portland joined in and together we collaborated with others in Brazil to further develop the software to better meet the needs of the students.

What we have is:
- A robot that costs about $40-50 to make
- All open-source software
- Mostly open-source hardware
- Can be used with Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux
- Uses Logo based commands
- Simple, easy to assemble command blocks eliminates syntax frustrations
- The software also accepts Cricket Logo, a text based language
- And most importantly: It’s just plain FUN to use!

Jim Larson, myself, and others in Brazil continue to gather and develop resources to help others that want to try it themselves or, hopefully, teach classes to kids and introduce them to programming/electronics/robotics.

I am starting to put together resources at the following website:

Speaking experience


  • Biography

    Jim Larson is a veteran embedded systems / hardware / software engineer. He is currently a student in the Computer Science department at Portland State University and an active member of DorkbotPDX.


  • Img 4865r

    Brett Nelson

    Dorkbot; Portland Area Robotics Society; ne'er do wells wherever they may be found


    I have a BS in mathematics + 2 years of graduate classes in mathematics and taught 9 years in high schools & Middle schools. I am currently a stay-at-home dad and spend way too much money on electronic gizmos that only occasionally find their way into completed projects. I can truthfully say that I got involved with robotics as a direct result of my beer drinking habit.