Parallax Insider News

cyber:bot Brings Python Programming to Parallax's Educational Robots

  • By: Ken Gracey Published: 08 January, 2019 0 comments

There’s a new robot coming out from Parallax this March - the micro:bit cyber:bot! Click here for a quick look if you just can’t wait.

The micro:bit is a small, low-cost ($17) embedded computer with enough features to control a science fair project. Wireless communication and a bunch of programming tools make it fun for engineers, too.

The cyber:bot’s micro:bit controller is programmed in MicroPython, a version of Python made for microcontrollers. Python is the world’s fastest growing programming language, for good reason. Python is simple like BASIC, but very capable with object-oriented code like C++. Python’s syntax uses indented spaces, making it easy to read and write. Our tutorials will be released in MicroPython followed by Microsoft MakeCode, a block-based language like Blockly.

We can thank the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (www.nicerc.org) for the cyber:bot concept. Through a partnership, Parallax designs and manufactures the cyber:bot and NICERC is developing the curriculum. NICERC funds come from a Department of Homeland Security grant. Their educational resources and professional development are entirely free to American educators! NICERC already has a series of micro:bit curriculum available as lesson plans for the classroom.

We unveiled the cyber:bot at the NICE K-12 Cybersecurity Conference in San Antonio, Texas on December 5th, 2017. These are the most popular questions you asked at the conference.

What’s the fastest way to learn about cyber:bot?

Sign up for the cyber:bot webinar on January 24th! This is an interactive event where you can ask questions and share your ideas. If you haven’t participated in one of our webinars you’re in for a special treat - we do live demos, encourage audience involvement, and minimize any hiding behind slides. Parallax will post the video on our YouTube channel if you are unable to attend.

Why would you use the cyber:bot?

These are the most important reasons to consider cyber:bot:

  • It’s a great way to learn Python, the most popular text-based programming language. The high school CollegeBoard AP Computer Science Principles Exam is now language agnostic - students get to choose the text-based language most appropriate for the project. Python is an accepted language in this AP course.
  • Electronic circuit building is done on the robot’s breadboard—no black boxes or pre-built shields—students build, code and test all electronic subsystems.
  • Trust in Parallax’s curriculum to be properly supported and available for a long time. We’re also available on your terms. Call the Educator Hotline!

Can the micro:bit really do all the activities we’ve seen on other Parallax robots?

Yes, the cyber:bot can do all of the popular robotic applications in Parallax tutorials:

  • Motor speed and direction control;
  • Whisker-based navigation;
  • Light following and avoidance;
  • Infrared object detection and robot following; and
  • Line following.

The micro:bit wasn’t designed for real-time programming loops with microsecond-timing like we need for robotics. To extend it for these features, the cyber:bot PCB has a Propeller Multicore Microcontroller as a co-processor. Simply include the parallax.py library and the most popular robotic sensors readily available to the micro:bit on a cyber:bot. The Propeller Multicore Microcontroller is “invisible” to the micro:bit programing; our firmware and include library takes care of these little details nicely with an I2C interface.

Parallax engineering team and NICERC staff collaborated closely over the design for a year, and we know you’ll be impressed!   

What’s the programming editor?

cyber:bot is programmed in Mu, a simple programming tool for beginners. Mu has very helpful syntax correction and runs on Windows, Mac and Chromebooks.

What about the curriculum?

The curriculum will be similar to what we’ve produced for the Arduino Shield-Bot with the important addition of cybersecurity. The assembly instructions and Python tutorials will be posted on learn.parallax.com, and the additional cybersecurity component will be available on NICERC.org.

If you’re interested in micro:bit examples, take a quick look at the kind of material NICERC has already released: Programming with Displays and Radio Communications. Register on www.nicerc.org to obtain the full micro:bit curriculum.

What’s the cost and release date?

Parallax cyber:bot (#32700) is $200.00 (quantity discounts are available) the target release date is March 1, 2019. A portion of our proceeds are returned to NICERC for continual curriculum development. If you currently use the Boe-Bot or Shield-Bot, consider the cyber:bot Conversion Kit (#32707).

If you want to get started with the micro:bit before you receive your cyber:bot, Parallax has both the single-unit GO and 10-pack CLUB available at this time! You can get started with micro:bit for a very low cost.

Can I retrofit another Parallax robot (Boe-Bot or Shield-Bot for Arduino) to be a cyber:bot?

Yes! Many of our classrooms use Arduino Shield-Bot and BASIC Stamp Boe-Bot robots. They share a enough commonalities with the cyber:bot that we will offer the cyber:bot Conversion Kit (#32707). In short “everything below the board” is the same with these robots (except we’ll add a 5-cell AA pack for Boe-Bot robots being retrofitted). However, it is not possible, practical or even desired to convert an ActivityBot 360 to a cyber:bot. The ActivityBot 360 uses the Propeller Multicore Microcontroller and has built-in encoder feedback and support for more advanced programming. We will make the cyber:bot Conversion Kit available in March as well.

Whether you’re a new programmer or simply searching for a platform to expand your coding capabilities, consider exploring Python with the cyber:bot. As a valued member of our robotic family, we will support your electronic endeavors with comprehensive support and a robust library of project ideas and inspiration.