Arduino-compatible Quirkbot lets kids build robots out of straws

One year ago, a simple and very cool construction kit for children came out; called Strawbees, it lets kids develop their inner engineer by making all kinds of structures out of ordinary drinking straws and cardboard. Now, a spinoff project has emerged: a “toy to make toys” called Quirkbot.

Quirkbot is a small 8MHz microcontroller with an Arduino-compatible bootloader that can be made part of a Strawbees creation without any need for soldering or breadboarding. It has light, distance and sound sensors and can basically be used to create moving, drinking-straw-based robots called “Qreatures.” Squeeze-on electronics can add sounds and lights to the mix.

Bot & Roll concertIt’s even possible to make a game controller using the thing. Quirkbot has a microUSB port for charging and for loading programs, which kids can create through a browser-based visual programming interface that allows for the sharing of projects.

This is a really nice educational idea – the Strawbees-compatible system makes it easy to quickly try out new ideas. The Swedish Quirkbot team’s Kickstarter campaign launched on Tuesday with the package of Quirkbot microcontroller, Strawbees Maker Kit, light sensors and motor costing $69 or $59 for the first 99 early birds.

Pricier kits come with features such as Midi out, speakers and LED lights, and with distance and sound sensors. The estimated ship date is August this year.


Volvo, Ericsson and POC show off crash-avoidance cycling helmet

A trio of Swedish firms — car manufacturer Volvo, helmet maker POC and networking outfit Ericsson — have announced a collaboration around the avoidance of collisions between cars and cyclists.

At the Consumer Electronics Show next month, the companies will show off a system that determines when the helmet-wearing cyclist and a Volvo driver are likely to crash into one another. The driver will get a warning through the car’s heads-up display, and the cyclist will be alerted through a flashing light in the helmet.

Volvo POC cycle helmetThe POC helmet will need to connect to Volvo’s cloud through a location-tracking app such as Strava, while the car will need to be one of the newer Volvos that already use radar and cameras to detect cyclists and automatically brake when a collision is imminent.

It’s a nice idea, and one that should draw attention to Volvo’s noble ambition that “nobody should die or be seriously injured in a new Volvo by the year 2020.” However, POC’s gear is pricey and Volvo is just one car brand — realistically speaking, this tie-up is unlikely to be of use to many people for now.

Until this sort of connected travel tech becomes more ubiquitous, drivers and cyclists alike would be best advised to just keep an eye where they’re going.

Here’s a video to watch (while not on the move):


Swedish ISP protects customers from surveillance with free VPN

Bahnhof was the last Swedish ISP to resist the enforcement of a data retention law that is arguably illegal under EU law. Now it’s technically giving in, but it intends to make the retained data useless to spies and law enforcement.

Community Wi-Fi startup Instabridge lands $1M seed round

The European startup is building a crowdsourced network composed of members’ home and business Wi-Fi. Instabridge says it’s now hosting 20,000 sessions and adding 1,000 new access points to its network each day.

Ericsson buys bankrupt US smart grid firm Ambient

The Swedish firm wants to use Ambient’s technology for allowing smart grid communication over different kinds of connection — and at a reported $7.5 million, the company was arguably a steal.

Bitcoin mining gear maker KnCMiner is building a data center in Sweden

KnCMiner, a Swedish company that makes hardcore hardware for the Bitcoin mining crowd, is constructing a data center for that very purpose. As reported by Data Center Knowledge, the 10-megawatt facility is being built in Boden, in a former army hangar nearby Facebook’s(s fb) Lulea data center — northern Sweden is cold with great renewable energy facilities, and is as such an ideal data center location. According to KnCMiner co-founder Sam Cole, it will go live in the coming months as the first of many planned “mega data centers” for Bitcoin mining, a larger one of which may be situated nearby if talks with local authorities pan out.