Retro Modules & S.T.E.A.M.

A project log for Retro Modules for Education

Optimizing the Retro Modules framework for educational settings.

WilliamWilliam 08/23/2021 at 05:160 Comments

How Retro Modules can be used for Scientific Experiments

Retro Modules can be used in the lab & the field. Each scientific experiment is typically unique & may require custom hardware to monitor (and possibly run) the experiment. Rather than building a one-off unique electronic rig for each specific experiment, generic functionality can be identified & extracted into modules. When the experiment is complete, the generic modules are still available for other experiments that may occur in the future.

How Retro Modules can be used for Technological Experiments

Recently, the framework was expanded to readily support experiments built on breadboards in crayon boxes. Modularity is cool, but a budding Electronics Engineer still needs to tinker, learn the essentials & test hypotheses. Retro Modules supports a broad set of simple signals & communication protocols found all around us. It provides a base layer of compatibility with many other popular circuit boards & frameworks. From breadboard work, to scratch-built hand-soldered boards, to premium-design many-layer custom circuit boards, the Retro Modules framework is ready.

How Retro Modules can be used for Engineering Experiments

What makes a thing a module? Most things can be made modular. Making something modular can be boiled down to making a thing compatible with another thing, according to an established spec. An old CNC machine being adapted to work with a modern computer via USB fits the bill. A lawn mower adapted to be controlled by a remote control also qualifies. So too does a 3D printer fitted with a shoe for a power tool battery. As does a bridge fitted with stress sensors. Retro Modules was designed to accommodate many of these use cases, while using a flat topology. The CAN protocol was chosen for long-distance & noisy applications. SPI & I2C were chosen given their simple hardware stack & ubiquity. Analog audio, SD & HD video signal support was added to allow simple ways to audibly & visually monitor locations. Finally, moderately higher voltage maximums allow for more power-hungry modules further away from the central hub. This flexibility allows Retro Modules to be considered a prime candidate for experiments ranging from robotics, to industrial automation, to field monitoring & control, to vehicle control systems.

How Retro Modules can be used for Artistic Experiments

One of the most impressive artistic experiments on earth is the ongoing work by "Compagnie La Machine." The brilliant company of creative people make massive animatronic creatures that often tower over city streets & vast audiences assembled. These creatures frequently feature lights, pyrotechnics & special effects audio systems to help further convince audiences the machine is alive. While the Company may be using advanced proprietary control systems, they may merely be relying on CAN to control the creature. The audio systems are likely using standard-fare unbalanced audio cables. Engineers deep in the belly of the float the creature is mounted to are probably using SDI for video monitoring, but could just as easily get by with Component or Composite video monitoring. Retro Modules could be used for artistic ventures like these, where many small modules make a big creature. Scale it down a little & you may have a large robot-like costume worn by a performer at a convention. The performer could use their camera Retro Module to feed video into their onboard computer Retro Module equipped with face tracking functionality that could control their pair of Eye Retro Modules. The following year they may have an entirely different costume that uses the exact same Retro Modules.

How Retro Modules can be used for Math Experiments

Much like with the Scientific category, Retro Modules can easily be used in the lab & the field. Mathematics experiments may also need custom rigs to test theories. Generic functionality can be identified & extracted into modules which can be used in many larger experiments which may not relate to the original experiment.

What is Retro Modules?

Retro Modules isn't a single product. It's a free, community-maintained framework designed to make making easier & more accessible.