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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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Ships from Copenhagen NV, DK
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.

  • Meanwhile, somewhere in Iceland...

    nicolas2 days ago 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.

  • Field Test in LA

    nicolas03/05/2019 at 17:49 0 comments

    Field test near LA's coolest attraction!


    Testing the diagnostics REST end points... and facing problems with the camera.

  • First field test

    nicolas03/01/2019 at 13:33 0 comments

    The first field test went quite well for a first try. The challenge consisted of finding the presentation screen during a conference. The rover started out under a chair in the room and the kids had to maneuver it into position to see the screen.

    One dark side moment occurred when the access point inadvertently turned off and had to be reactivated. 

    The navigation process required some patience from the participants as the images currently take around 30 seconds to  upload. Also, the rover on two occasions started behaving weirdly, turning around continuously, as if it had gotten interrupted while the motor pins were high.

    The http GET that sends the distance measurement fails, a problem that can be "fixed" by disabling the camera-related code. That dependency is quite weird and might be pointing at a stack or heap overflow.

    It might anyways be a good idea to get rid of the SoftwareSerial library and use the hardware serial bus between the ESP and the Arduino. That will make debugging via the serial interface impossible and it might anyways be a good idea to be able to do debugging via the http requests.

    In summary, the kids found the challenge highly motivating and that was by far the most important.

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