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The Dark Side Challenge

A DIY Arduino robot project for teaching kids how to combine machine autonomy with human decision points. And programming.

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The goal of the challenge is to build a robot that can autonomously navigate through a terrain where radio contact is sporadic or impossible – just as if it were on the dark side of the Moon or somewhere even farther away.

While achieving that goal, the challengers are learning to program and debug embedded devices and sensors, to imagine, reason and persevere, understand how to properly balance machine intelligence with human interaction. The youngest ones are even learning the alphabet – both in capital and small letters!

The repository on Gitlab contains a progression from the simplest Arduino program (Blink), to more advanced topics in C++, Java and Javascript and can even lead to understanding differential equations at an early age.

It only uses standard (and cheap) hardware. The rover can easily be set up allowing for schools (or other organizations) around the world to connect and visit each other virtually.

The system consists of an Arduino Uno R3-based rover communicating via WiFi using an ESP8266.

The current version features an ultrasound distance sensor and a camera.

The rover polls its commands from a server which, if it has a public IP, can be accessed from anywhere. Commands are sent to the server via a web page and a REST interface.

All code is available on Gitlab.

The system was built to be as simple and accessible as possible and with the purpose of teaching programming and computational thinking.

  • The Dark Side Badge

    nicolas07/03/2019 at 21:38 0 comments

    To celebrate that we made it to the finals of the Ultimate Arduino Challenge, we designed a Finalist badge that glows in the dark...

    ... the idea being to make it an actual Dark Side device for remote sensing/possibly acting.

    Discovering the wonders of the glue pistol!

    Wearing the badge in a debate on girls in STEM at the annual "Folkemøde" on the island of Bornholm.

  • The Dark Side Probe

    nicolas06/13/2019 at 21:58 0 comments

    The Dark Side Probe is about using the Dark Side Challenge software stack to collect information in a remote area, with a particular attention to battery life & power consumption

    The current version consists of an Arduino Pro Mini managing a SIM7000E GSM+GPS module.

    We have simply added the SIM7000 functionality by reusing (refactoring) most of the existing ESP8266 code.

    What we are still missing is:

     * to find out how to make the SIM7000 enter sleep mode

     * reduce the time it takes to get a GSM connection (currently takes >10 min). The target is a few seconds, as we would like to achieve a year-long battery life.

     * get GPS information from the SIM7000, possibly using Assisted GPS

  • Meanwhile, somewhere in Iceland...

    nicolas05/22/2019 at 18:22 0 comments

    ... a group of children are evaluating how fun and educational their session with Dark Side Rover Icebot just was: left hand shows how fun (on a scale from 0-5), right hand shows how educational. Straight 10/10 !

    Makeresses in the making!

    Accomplished Dark Side Missions included "Under the bridge" and "Find the sandal"


  • First Rover Shipped. Made with Mom.

    nicolas05/16/2019 at 16:53 0 comments

    First rover (baptized Coquine) shipped to Norway, sponsored by the Ellehammer foundation.

    Made by a 6-year old and her mother.

    Now it is stuck in customs :( Should have labeled the package clearly. Learning as we go.


    We decided to assemble it before shipping it, just to be sure that it works. Lucky we did that!

  • Visit of a Legend

    nicolas05/13/2019 at 13:20 0 comments

  • Rover now available on Tindie!

    nicolas04/30/2019 at 19:21 0 comments
  • MVP!

    nicolas04/26/2019 at 23:25 0 comments

    Today we achieved a major milestone: the Minimum Viable Product!


    Champagne at the Friday bar

  • Aė and the Dark Side Story

    nicolas04/02/2019 at 19:59 0 comments

    We have now augmented the project with a storytelling component. We have done it to address and inspire a wider population of kids. And because it's fun. And because it triggers the imagination in new ways.

    The story line (or story tree?) is about astronaut and teacher Aė, her pupils and their adventures in space.

    The first story is that they celebrate the semicentennial anniversary of the Moon landing.

  • Classroom Field Test

    nicolas03/29/2019 at 10:49 0 comments

    During yesterday's field test the younger kids controlled the rover.


    It wasn't really dark side'ish as such in the sense we had constant visual contact with the rover.

    The ESP8266 tends to lose connection to the access point, probably a power problem or  a loose connection.


  • Arduina at ESA

    nicolas03/08/2019 at 16:17 0 comments

    Joséphine's Dark Side rover Arduina meeting a new friend at the European Space Agency's teacher traning camp.

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