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It can be challenging to get kids involved in STEM because it's a pretty vast array of subjects and it can be highly technical, which makes it difficult to relate to. With that in mind, there has been a big push to create ways for students to learn the skills of engineering or programming or science without getting bogged down in heavy technical jargon that's too high-level for beginners.

Oftentimes, these avenues involve some sort of toy. Things like Goldieblox and Lincoln logs are great introductions to the spatial reasoning and logic and a lot of companies are hosting programs like Hour of Code, which introduces kids to complicated programming languages in visual ways.

Related: This is what happens when an editor gets a GoldieBlox

The newest kid on the block--so to speak--is the Rubik's Cube-solving robot called Ruku. Robotics can be a natural avenue for interest in STEM as it tends to be pretty exciting and visual. The idea behind the Roku Robot is to create a kit that students can assemble for a combo lesson on robotics, computer science and engineering. It was created by Daryl Stimm and William Mutterspaugh, two graduates of the University of California, San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering, who used the Prototyping Lab  at the Qualcomm Institute to build the prototype of the Ruku in eight weeks. 

The kit comes with a universal motor driver circuit board with six programmable stepper motor drivers and is designed around the Raspberry Pi. The robot itself comes with instructions for assembly, as well as workbooks about robotics and even some advanced mathmatics and engineering. Once it is assembled, the students can use the iPhone app to have the robot solve the Rubik's Cube via programming they're responsible for creating. The iPhone app is able to detect the colors and figure out the fastest way to solve the puzzle. The interesting thing about this kit is that it's good for beginners as young as 11, but can also offer higher-level programming and robotics challenges. Plus, after the robot is completed, it can be taken apart and each individual part can be used to build something else. Once students understand the basic concepts, they can use their own creativity to see what else is possible.

One of the interesting side affects of using a Rubik's cube instead of a more traditional robot, is that it seems to interest more girls. Both the creators noticed they had more girls coming up and asking questions after demonstrations and realized it could be a good way to close the gender gap in student interest.

Right now, the Ruku is in the hands of Kickstarter and need's about $40,000 in the next five days. So get over there and chip in if you can! They're hoping to use the funds to move away from the 3D-printed parts currently being used and into a more cost-effective manufacturing option.

This machine may be able to solve the Rubik's Cube, but can it beat our very own Rubik's Cube Guru (and ECN video extraordinaire) Jon? Me thinks not.

(This is a timelapse of about 1 minute 15 seconds)

 

Actually, sadly, it can. Sorry, Jon. The Ruku has a record solving speed of 20 seconds. It even includes programs to help you solve a Rubik's Cube on your own.

But, because humans are superior to robots (for now),  Jon can also solve ... whatever this is in about 25 seconds. (It's called a Pyraminx, apparently)

 

Your move, Ruku.

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