Say Hello to Robot In A Box

November 30, 2021

As they say “teamwork makes the dream work”, and this NYC FIRST dream team of engineers, artists, educators, funders, high school interns and an entire library system are pleased to introduce a new project that we hope will bring us one step closer to a robot in the hands of any NYC kid who wants one. 

Robot in a Box was born during the pandemic when we had to literally box up our programs and deliver them to our students through Zoom. First prototyped in Summer 2020, they were enthusiastically received by students who quickly embraced a STEM program that moved beyond the screen and onto their desktop. Heading the call of our partner educators, we recognized that an ultra-low-cost robot could help us expand our reach and dramatically increase the number and diversity of students who were inspired to study and succeed in STEM.

Already partners through the Brooklyn Robotics League, NYC FIRST and Brooklyn Public Library run FIRST LEGO League teams within a mile of any middle school library patron in the borough. Robot in a Box was a natural next step, and in July the partners launched our pilot program to deliver kits and workshops to over 40 children. These enthusiastic roboticists have had the opportunity to “playtest” the kits with their families, STEM Educators and Librarians who staff the branches. As kids complete their different assignments, they can return to the library to get additional challenges and supplies, while also accessing the amazing resources that BPL has to offer. 

As students open their kits they’ll find everything they need to explore the field of robotics including lessons on electrical and mechanical engineering, computer programming, and design thinking. They’ll also discover physical and digital prototyping materials that are key to moving their creative and brilliant robot designs from their imaginations and into the real world. The kit provides an ecosystem of learning resources that come as decks of cards, a browser-based webpage, an augmented reality package, and a digital toolkit in TinkerCAD and GitHub. With their friends and family, kids can begin with the basics and easily upgrade their skills into new programming languages, more complicated designs, and new digital tools.

To help make this project a success, interns, drawn from our partner high schools, joined us in June to participate in an unusual product design internship where they created curricular materials, re-engineered our supply and distribution chains, created AR experiences and instructional materials, conducted user testing, and ultimately taught the RIAB curriculum to our middle school campers. The internship, generously funded by Bloomberg LP and the Pinkerton Foundation, provided an experience like no other. 

We continue to develop and improve our RIAB kits and hope to expand distribution in the coming months. To learn more about the launch of Robot in a Box, check out these clips:

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NYC FIRST would like to thank our partners that have helped launch this project, including our implementation partner Brooklyn Public Library, along with Con Edison, and the Charles H. Revson Foundation for their leadership support.