Unmade meets Technology Will Save Us

  • Jess Fawcett
(Originally published on the UMd.studio Journal, 7th June 2016)
Technology Will Save Us make DIY gadget kits designed to inspire kids (of all ages) through learning and making. We visited their East London studio and talked to Lead Kit Designer, Sadhbh Doherty, to find out more about their Kickstarter campaign and how they're helping almost a million school kids to learn to code.
Founded by mom-and-dad team Bethany Koby and Daniel Hirschmann, Technology Will Save Us grew from a series of workshops into a collection of DIY tech kits that can be made by kids and adults alike in their own homes. The aim is to empower people by getting them hands-on with the technology that surrounds them everyday and learn by doing.
We try to give people an entryway through things they are already doing. ‘You like music? Well here's how technology can be used for that.’
There's the DIY Thirsty Plant Kit for budding gardeners, the DIY Synth Kit for amateur musos, and the DIY Gamer Kit for - you guessed it - gamers. And did we mention how great they look? Rather than hide away the hardware in casings, the bright, transparent coloured acrylics celebrate the electronics which are, after all, at the core of everything. 
Coding for kids
With a new computing curriculum rolled out to UK schools last September, children will start to learn the basic principles of coding from the age of four. It’s inevitable that in just a few years, there will be kids who are way more advanced than a lot of the adults currently working in tech. How does Sadhbh think this will change the way we work with computers?
Coding is really important, but it's also important that we don't lose the hardware and electronics side of things. It's not just about using code - it's about using code creatively in lots of different ways - and that's where our kits come in. It’ll be important to understand the technology you're working with, but also to be able to work creatively with it. That’s the part computers can’t do for you.
Speaking of schools, Technology Will Save Us have been instrumental in getting the BBC Micro:bit into the hands of a million year 7 pupils. A pocket-sized revamp of the original BBC Micro used in British classrooms in the 80s, the Micro:bit was part of the BBC's Make it Digital campaign to promote digital creativity in a new generation. Working alongside big hitters like Microsoft, their role was to look at the user experience. 
We wanted to keep it simple and for kids to be able to relate to it immediately. A lot of the content that had been created for the Micro:bit was coding based, but we also wanted to expose the physical aspect of it. It's pretty much a mini Arduino - you can do so much with it! We've made it into air guitars and you could make a DIY Thirsty Plant Kit by attaching a couple of nails. We've also developed a platform for the Micro:bit community to come together and talk about what they've done with it. We want to encourage them to share their ideas, to make something bigger and better.
Moving and shaking
There's a similar concept at the heart of the Mover Kit. Let’s be clear. The Mover isn’t a FitBit for kids - although the initial idea of creating something powered by physical activity was fuelled by reports indicating that most children are not getting anywhere near the recommended 60 minutes of exercise each day. When Technology Will Save Us took their early prototypes into schools they realised the kids weren’t motivated by data or tracking capabilities, but by what they could make the Mover DO. They were excited by seeing in real time what effect doing this or that physical movement had on it. The gold at the end of the rainbow was not numbers, but the rainbow itself. It also became clear that the kids wanted something small and portable - something they could wear whilst having fun.
The Mover Kit has been developed and tested with over 300 kids. Featuring a motion sensor (accelerometer), compass (magnetometer) and rainbow LEDs, it can be built straight from the box - no tools needed - in around 15 minutes. From there, kids (of any age) can use a combination of simple coding skills, craft and creativity to make all manner of crazy inventions - and share their creations on the Make platform. Plugging it into a computer via USB enables you to download all kinds of cool apps, transforming the Mover into something new.
Like what? Well, a running rainbow, a toothbrush trainer, a wizard wand, or as Sadhbh tells us, a police car:
One girl had just got a remote control car for her birthday and wanted to make it into a police car, with blue and red flashing lights. She made a road from a piece of paper and she wanted a wind-up toy to cross it. She wanted the car to drive up to the road, lights flashing, stop to let the toy cross, and then drive on again with the lights flashing. It was a simple sequence, but she came up with the problem herself and she knew that she could provide a solution by coding the Mover.
You could say that the Mover is the perfect balance of theory and practice - of physical and digital. Yes, you need to sit at a computer and do the coding, but then you need to step away from the screen and (literally) run around to test your work. Having something physical, tangible, that you can hold and see reactions and results on, makes a huge difference to problem solving.

Kicking off
And now the Mover Kit is on Kickstarter and Technology Will Save us have raised over double their initial $50,000 goal - if they reach their stretch goal of $125,000, all backers will receive a custom-made rainbow snap band for their Mover. The money raised via crowdfunding will go towards tooling for the new kit, but what else has the experience given Technology Will Save Us? Sadhbh explains:
We’re very reiterative with everything we do, and we like people to be involved in what we’re doing. Kickstarter has been a great platform for us to talk to people while we were making our final decisions. Yes, we’re making hardware which needs a lot of investment in terms of tooling, but it’s really the Kickstarter community that we wanted to tap into. There's such a wealth of great people on there who are interested in what we’re doing and who want to get involved and to help get the word out. We're a team of 28 people and absolutely everyone has been involved in it in one way or another. We all had to work together, every single part of the company, to really bring this to life.

Fancy picking up your own Mover Kit? You’d better get a move on as the Kickstarter campaign is in its final few days and kits are limited. Although if you like what you see and want to pledge a small token of your appreciation, virtual high fives are in abundance.


Photography: Sasha Zyryaev

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    Tech Will Save Us

    • Non Creative Industries