3D Printing, Robotics and Electronics “Road Show” in Kenya

When we first came to Uganda seven years, our goal was to put computers in schools because we knew that technology training was not only a necessity, it’s fun and inspirational, especially when the students have had limited (or no) access to equipment.

However, installing computers in classrooms was a problem because teachers and staff couldn’t properly maintain the equipment, and weren’t properly trained in it’s use. We eventually consolidated the donated classroom equipment into our Computer Training Center to help raise the bar and prepare teachers and students for the future of technology.

Basic training is great, but as hackers, our heart is for advanced technology and we know that it can inspire and motivate students in astounding ways. We decided to try our hands at a hackerspace, but that model had problems as well and it became impossible to find trusted staff to maintain it.

I go through cycles here in Africa. I get excited about an idea, try it, see what happens and revise, or try something else. At times it feels like I’m reinventing the wheel, but we’re in uncharted territory most of the time. Although it’s taken longer to bounce back from the hackerspace failure, I am bouncing back none the less.

The goal is straightforward: we, as an organization, want to introduce teachers and students to advanced technology concepts to inspire them and eventually we would like to find a way to get them the basic gear to continue to explore and learn. The format would be a several hour-long traveling tech “variety road show”, or a longer format two-day “tech camp”.

We’ve been pursuing this idea for about a year now, as we are lined up for STEM/STEAM grants to do exactly this in the United States. (More on the US initiative later!) It’s a fun idea, but it’s also somewhat daunting because we want to provide hands-on training in 3D printing, CNC fabrication, robotics and electronics. To that end, I’ve put together some course material for these topics and I’m doing some test runs here in Africa.

I attended Rift Valley Academy in Kenya this past week to put on a road show and also do staff development.

RVA's Kiambogo building.

RVA’s Kiambogo building.

It was a lot of work.

I spent a few weeks preparing the slides and also doing some demo prints. The cellular vase was a big hit (a 9-hour print on our full size Ultimaker 2):

Cellular Lamp

Cellular Lamp

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The Raptor reloaded prosthetic hand demo was also a hit. This is a small demonstration sized hand that’s completely 3D printed (except for the finger adjustment bolts and the fishing line).

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It’s designed for patients who have lost some or all of their fingers, and it straps to the forearm with medical-grade foam and velcro. When the patient bends their wrist, the hand closes, allowing them to grab items:

The space wrench was another big hit.

This wrench was designed by “Made in Space” and sent to the International Space Station. What’s super cool about it is that first of all it was PRINTED IN SPACE, but also it’s a print-in place, working 3-in-pound ratcheting socket wrench:

"Made in Space" wrench

“Made in Space” wrench

The wrench works really well, especially considering that it came off the full-size Ultimaker 2 all in one piece:

And of course the cube gears are always mind-bending fun. Like a twisted, mechanically amazing Rubik’s cube, it starts as a cube shape:

The cube gear, as a cube

The cube gear, as a cube

Then, the magic happens when you rotate the corners:

I took our Ultimaker 2 Go printer, which is perfectly suited for traveling, but I packed it in the travel case as well as the box for our larger Ultimaker 2 for added protection. I even took the time to add big “Fragile” and “This end up” signs. When the printer arrived in Nairobi, it was right side up and already on a cart. IT was handled extremely well. However, when I returned to Uganda, the printer wasn’t handled nearly as well, but thankfully it survived both trips.

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We were set up in a big “video room” where I had two tables, one for the printer and another for the LittleBits and Edison robots.

Ultimaker 2 Go Printer Table

Ultimaker 2 Go Printer Table

LittleBits and Edison table

LittleBits and Edison table

The classes were a huge success, and we had a massive reception, working with hundreds of kids from 3-12 grade.

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I had the elementary librarian find me later on the second day to find out what the excitement was all about. Apparently, she was being inundated with kids asking for books about robotics, 3D printing, and electronics! This is exactly why we do these events. We want to inspire kids to create and learn.

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The excitement was pretty contagious, and I realized how much I missed working with and teaching about advanced technology, and more than anything I missed being in the amazing position to inspire others.

This trial run was an absolute blast for me, and for the students and faculty. I’m excited to have done this first run, and even more excited to do many more of them, all over the world!

Thank you so much to the donors that stepped in to make all of this possible. We wouldn’t have any of this equipment without you and we certainly wouldn’t be able to travel around inspiring others with it!