Think you can’t build a robot? Think again.
Meet Ben Pirt, the man on a mission to empower both young and old with the tools to excel in technology, engineering and programming. With the team at Mime Industries, Ben developed the MeArm Pi, which has just raised over £50,000 on Kickstarter. We caught up with Ben to hear about their easy-to-build robot arm, the future of work and where he thinks ideas come from.
Q: Tell us about MeArm, what is it?
Ben: The MeArm is a robotic arm kit that’s designed to be very low cost, simple and fun to build. It’s created to be a platform to help kids earn about technology. The idea is that kids will learn from building it and then use it to learn programming.
Q: What inspired you to develop it?
Ben: The original version of the MeArm was developed out of a desire to see a properly open source arm you could build yourself, this was after a number of other robot arm projects claimed they were open source but failed to deliver. As is often the way with these things, this initial project has developed into a full product that achieves more than was ever imagined.
Q: Quite! You had so much support on your kickstarter, why do you think people are so keen to have a MeArm of their own?
Ben: Aside from the fact that robot arms are just plain cool? I think, that by making it able to be built by children lowers the barriers to entry and makes something that would normally be seen to be impossible - possible. It also ties into the current efforts to help children understand technology at a deeper level than Word and Excel. We think that the mechanical engineering side of learning is just as important as the software side.
Q: What are you going to do with the extra funds you’ve raised?
Ben: We’re still in startup stage, so at the moment any extra money will be ploughed straight back into developing the next product and getting ahead of stock while the cashflow is good.
Q: The MeArm is a Raspberry Pi specific bot, why is that so important?
Ben: It was always possible to drive a MeArm from a Raspberry Pi, but the tight integration is what makes the MeArm Pi work so well. It allows us to get everything working straight out of the box, which is vital when kids are building projects because any difficulty can easily become an obstacle to getting it finished.
Q: Tell us about one of your favourite use cases of the MeArm.
Ben: I think it has to be the automatictoothbrush helmet from Simone Giertz
Q: Where do you think good ideas come from?
Ben: I don’t think there’s one place for good ideas. If you’re interested in a particular thing then you immerse yourself in it, understand it and then you can create interesting things around it. Exposing yourself to new things is the key because inspiration can come from anywhere.
Q: Creating robotic interfaces for the next generation, we can’t help but question the future of automation and the workplace. What do you think the future of work looks like?
Ben: I think history repeats itself. It’s easy to get scared over robots taking all of the jobs but this is exactly what people were thinking during the industrial revolution when traction engines replaced plough teams and steam powered looms replaced hand weaving. Quality of life was massively improved over those times and we all found different things to do. The human race is very good, too good perhaps, at adapting.
Q: We expect you’ll be pretty busy over the coming months, but what’s in the pipeline for you?
Ben: Robots, lots of robots. We’ve got other versions of the MeArm in development and we’re looking at a revision to Mirobot this year too. Plus I’ve got some big plans for a new, top secret, product!