FlowPaw is a new device from DSPRobotics aimed at teaching kids about computers and programming. Check it out on the FlowPaw Site.
The aim is to inspire a new generation of software developers by making learning programming more fun and easier to access. Don’t be fooled though, FlowPaw may be marketed toward education for kids but this is a very serious expandable piece of kit. FlowPaws functionality can be extended via click boards. There are many already available which you can buy via the MikroElektronika Site (they also make FlowPaw).
Flowstone only supports a subset of available click boards at the moment (10 as of Flowstone 3.0.6), these are 7segLED, 8x8LED, Buzzer, IRTemp, Proximity, Relay, Accelerometer , CapSense, SpeakUp, DigitalIO. Type “FlowPaw” into Flowstones toolbox search to find these components.
First impressions of FlowPaw
FlowPaw comes in a very nice looking and sturdy box. I was actually surprised how small the box was, it can easily fit through a letter box. The design of the box is great with a nice reflective pattern of paws on the lid with icons representing the click boards on the bottom. I found the box hard to open the first time because there was no real gap to get my finger in, the box is packed very tight which explains it’s relatively small size. I also struggled a little bit getting the actual FlowPaw out of the box, probably because of my initial fear of breaking it. Not to fear though FlowPaw is just as sturdy as it’s packaging
FlowPaw looks and feels very well built. In three words, Small, Sturdy, Cool.
As well as 4 ‘claws’ (click board slots) it also has 4 Analog and 4 digital inputs as well as 8 servo inputs, so FlowPaw can be extended and used in lots of ways beyond just adding more click boards. Some of the examples from the FlowPaw site are pretty cool such as the Wireless Rover which looks to be using a Bluetooth click board, although Flowstone 3.0.6 doesn’t support that yet so maybe it will be in the next release. It would be nice to see a tutorial on how to make your own rover and what parts are needed. I personally don’t have much experience with this stuff, I am more of a software guy, some tutorials on how to make more complex examples beyond using click boards would be very beneficial to someone like me.
What else is in the box?
FlowPaw also comes with Flowstone STEM on DVD, this is exactly the same as the standard Flowstone except there is no VST or EXE export. It also comes with 25 example schematics some of which are pretty complex such as games like Pong and Space Invaders. Some are modified versions of the examples on the Flowstone website , such as Space Invaders where the spaceship is now controlled by physically moving FlowPaw, very cool! Then there is simple stuff such as “Hello world” which just turns an LED on and off. The examples are very useful and help with grasping the basics of FlowPaw and also Flowstone.
If you already have Flowstone installed be aware that Flowstone STEM tries to install to the same folder, I changed the install folder from Flowstone to Flowstone STEM to avoid overwriting it. Only thing is Flowstone STEM then becomes the default installation and double clicking a Flowstone schematic will open in the STEM version, this was annoying so I just uninstalled it but kept the examples (which are installed to documents folder).
Also in the box is an extendible USB cable and 4 click boards, “Buzzer” makes basic sounds, “8×8 LED” for displaying text , “Accelerometer” think wiimote , “Proximity” senses proximity. These are pretty good as a starter, and can be linked in interesting ways in Flowstone.
FlowPaw is very quick to get up and running, just connect the click boards you want to use and then plug into your PC with the provided USB cable. Now just fire up Flowstone, grab the FlowPaw component then trigger the start input, now Flowstone and FlowPaw are connected and the fun can begin! I felt like a kid again and found my self getting quite excited by something as simple as displaying text on the 8x8LED claw . I played about triggering the buzzer and text in weird and wonderful ways, I think most of the use cases for these initial click boards are covered by the examples, the Burglar alarm is a good example. I can see the power of FlowPaw comes from its extendibility so while the use cases for the initial out of the box FlowPaw is quite limited, this is a very good base for more complex projects. I’m going to have some fun building cool gadgets with this.
I really like FlowPaw and would definitely have loved this as a kid, hell I love it now! It is very nice being able to communicate with the outside world so simply from within Flowstone. I look forward to support for more click boards as time goes on. I wonder what crazy gadgets I can come up with? Maybe I can create a robot to make and bring me cups of tea? (Yes I’m lazy and drink way too much tea).