Discover the story of the open source robot created for teachers, by universities.
A robot in the classroom ?
Thymio has been developed in the context of a collaboration between the MOBOTS group of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and the Lausanne Arts School (ECAL). For Thymio, the development was supported by the NCCR Robotics research program, while Mobsya association took part in the development and managed production and distribution.
The Thymio project started from the idea of offering children a modular affordable robot to let them discover digital technologies. From a first workshop between EPFL and ECAL, a robot built with different bare electronic boards assembled on any kind of support was born and called “Monsieur Patate”. Some time later, another version of this robot has been developed and called “Thymio”: a 4-block robot that you can assemble, arriving with some pre-programmed behaviours but that you couldn’t program yourself. One thousand of them have been produced and used to understand what people needed and wanted. A user study later, the list of features of the Thymio II robot were written down. One year later, the first Thymio II robots met their users.
Image : Prototypes of “Monsieur Patate”, Thymio and Thymio II robots
The Thymio project benefited from the support of numerous actors being institutions or passionate people. Hardware, software, educational activities, training, workshops, translations… hundreds of people helped in their way to make this project what it is today and we thank them for their commitment.
Make it accessible!
Collaboration is at the heart of Thymio’s success. Thanks to a model based on the free sharing of knowledge and information, we can bring together each participant’s strengths and offer a unique educational and fun experience to our users.
All hardware, software, and educational activities are developed by different partners using open licences. That means each partner commits to provide freely all design information, so that anybody can understand, reuse, or modify it, under the condition of also sharing their subsequent work and refer to original authors.
This collaboration brings advantages for each participant in the project:
- Research institutes can spread the results of their work and reach a wider audience. The bigger the user base for a platform, the better the possibilities to evaluate and improve it. The results of research are quickly in application.
- Industrial partners get access to state-of-the art projects that are close to production stage. The costs of licences are reduced and the products have scientific validation. The production partners provide all knowledge freely (schematics, plans, pdfs of activities, etc) and sell physical instances (robots, accessories, printed booklets, etc.).
- Contributors can take part in a big project within their means. They choose their involvement, propose ideas, receive help and have their work diffused at a larger scale.
- Users get less expensive educational platforms and material, a lot of free resources, transparency in the project, and a longer product lifetime.
The scientific foundations of our project
We aim at providing effective and user friendly learning tools. To do so, we follow the scientific method and, whenever possible, take design decisions based on solid empirical data. We take advantage of the open-source nature of our project to tightly integrate research, development, deployment and evaluation. Compared to a traditional single-time technology-transfer to a closed-source product, our approach provides a cheaper and better product at a lower price, and therefore optimally exploits public funding. The research underlying our project falls in two categories: educational and technological research.
On the educational side, we pursue two lines of research:
- We aim at understanding how to optimally use mobile robots to teach STEM and computational thinking in general [1, 2, 13, 19], and core computer-science concepts in particular [3, 8, 12]. Our goal is to improve early education in these fields. Beside the empirical validation of the learning, this research also explores the interaction design aspect [4, 9, 7].
- We aim at understanding the perception and the acceptance of robots as learning tools by children and teachers [6, 11, 13], to ensure that our research work leads to contributions in actual practice.
On the technological side, the software pillar of our project is built on Aseba, a software that allows novices to program robots easily and efficiently. The work on Aseba has been conducted in several contexts:
- In multi-microcontroller robots, we have explored how to take advantage of the computational power of peripheral microcontrollers to provide hardware modularity, low latency between perception and action, and economical use of the bandwidth of the robot’s internal communication bus [14, 16, 15]. We have explored how to do so in a user-friendly way and how to integrate with high-level languages  and existing robot software development frameworks, such as ROS.
- In collective robotics, we have demonstrated how to streamline the development process by allowing instantaneous changes of the robots’ programs as well as parallel debugging of all robots . We have proposed a way to do so wirelessly, transparently and at a low price .
1. A review: Can robots reshape K-12 STEM education?. Ehsan Karim, Séverin Lemaignan and Francesco Mondada. In 2015 IEEE International Workshop on Advanced Robotics and its Social Impacts (ARSO 2015), Lyon, France, July 2015.2. IniRobot : a pedagogical kit to initiate children to concepts of robotics and computer science. Dider Roy, Pierre-Yves Oudeyer, Stéphane Magnenat, Fanny Riedo, Gordana Gerber, Morgane Chevalier, Francesco Mondada. In 6th International Conference on Robotics in Education (RiE), Yverdon les Bains, Switzerland, May 20-22, 2015.3. Enhancing Robot Programming With Visual Feedback and Augmented Reality. Stéphane Magnenat, Morderchai Ben-Ari, Severin Klinger, and Robert W. Sumner. In 20th Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE), ACM Press, pages 153–158, Vilnius, July 6-8, 2015, DOI: 10.1145/2729094.2742585. Additional material.4. Thymio: a holistic approach to designing accessible educational robots. Fanny Riedo, Francesco Mondada and Pierre Dillenbourg (Dirs.). EPFL Thesis, n° 6557, 2015.5. Can robots in classroom attract more women to Engineering? G. Venture, IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, vol. 21, no. 4, pages 130–131, 2014, 10.1109/MRA.2014.2360623.6. A sociological contribution to understanding the use of robots in schools: the Thymio robot. Sabine Kradolfer, Simon Dubois, Fanny Riedo, Francesco Mondada and Farinaz Fassa. In Fifth International Conference on Social Robotics, Springer, Lecture Notes in Computer Science 8755, pages 217–228, Sydney, October 27–29, 2014, 10.1007/978-3-319-11973-1_22.7. Visual Programming Language for Thymio II Robot. Jiwon Shin, Roland Siegwart, and Stéphane Magnenat. In Interaction Design and Children (IDC), Aarhus, Denmark, June 17–20, 2014. Additional material.8. Teaching a Core CS Concept through Robotics. Stéphane Magnenat, Jiwon Shin, Fanny Riedo, Roland Siegwart, and Morderchai Ben-Ari. In 19th Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE), ACM Press, pages 315–320, Uppsala, Sweden, June 23–25, 2014, DOI: 10.1145/2591708.2591714.9. Thymio II, a Robot That Grows Wiser with Children. Fanny Riedo, Morgane Chevalier, Stéphane Magnenat, and Francesco Mondada. In IEEE Workshop on Advanced Robotics and its Social Impacts (ARSO), IEEE Press, pages 187–193, Tokyo, Japan, November 7–9, 2013, DOI: 10.1109/ARSO.2013.6705527.10. Seamless Multi-Robot Programming for the People: ASEBA and the Wireless Thymio II Robot. Philippe Rétornaz, Fanny Riedo, Stéphane Magnenat, Florian Vaussard, Michael Bonani, and Francesco Mondada. In IEEE International Conference on Information and Automation (ICIA), IEEE Press, pages 337–343, Yinchuan, China, August 26–28, 2013, DOI: 10.1109/ICInfA.2013.6720320.11. Involving and training public school teachers in using robotics for education. Fanny Riedo, Mariza Freire, Michael Bonani, Francesco Mondada. In IEEE International Workshop on Advanced Robotics and its Social Impacts (ARSO), IEEE Press, pages 19–23, Munich, Germany, May 21–23, 2012, DOI: 10.1109/ARSO.2012.6213392.12. A Programming Workshop using the Robot “Thymio II”: The Effect on the Understanding by Children. Stéphane Magnenat, Fanny Riedo, Michael Bonani, and Francesco Mondada. In IEEE International Workshop on Advanced Robotics and its Social Impacts (ARSO), IEEE Press, pages 24–29, Munich, Germany, May 21–23, 2012, DOI: 10.1109/ARSO.2012.6213393.13. A two years informal learning experience using the Thymio robot. Fanny Riedo, Philippe Rétornaz, Luc Bergeron, Nathalie Nyffeler and Francesco Mondada. In 6th International Symposium on Autonomous Minirobots for Research and Edutainment, pages 37–48, Bielefeld, Germany, May 23–25, 2011, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-27482-4_7.14. ASEBA: A Modular Architecture for Event-Based Control of Complex Robots. Stéphane Magnenat, Philippe Rétornaz, Michael Bonani, Valentin Longchamp, and Francesco Mondada. IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics, vol. 16, issue 2, pages 321–329, April, 2011, DOI: 10.1109/TMECH.2010.2042722.15. The MarXbot, a Miniature Mobile Robot Opening new Perspectives for the Collective-robotic Research. Michael Bonani, Valentin Longchamp, Stéphane Magnenat, Philippe Rétornaz, Daniel Burnier, Gilles Roulet, Florian Vaussard, Hannes Bleuler, and Francesco Mondada. In IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), IEEE Press, pages 4187–4193, Taipei, Taiwan, October 18–22, 2010, DOI: 10.1109/IROS.2010.5649153.16. The Hand-bot, a Robot Design for Simultaneous Climbing and Manipulation. Michael Bonani, Stéphane Magnenat, Philippe Rétornaz, Francesco Mondada. In Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Intelligent Robotics and Applications (ICIRA), Lecture Notes in Computer Science Volume 5928, Springer Verlag, pages 11–22, Singapore, December 16–18, 2009, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-10817-4_2.17. Aseba Meets D-Bus: From the Depths of a Low-Level Event-Based Architecture into the Middleware Realm. Stéphane Magnenat and Francesco Mondada. In IEEE TC-Soft Workshop on Event-based Systems in Robotics (EBS-RO), St. Louis, MO, USA, October 15, 2009.18. Scripting the swarm: event-based control of microcontroller-based robots. Stéphane Magnenat, Philippe Rétornaz, Basilio Noris, and Francesco Mondada. In International Conference on Simulation, Modeling, and Programming for Autonomous Robots (SIMPAR), Workshop Proceedings, ISBN: 978-88-95872-01-8, Venice, Italy, November 3–7, 2008.19. Aseba-Challenge: An Open-Source Multiplayer Introduction to Mobile Robots Programming. Stéphane Magnenat, Basilio Noris, and Francesco Mondada. In Second International Conference on Fun and Games, Lecture Notes in Computer Science Volume 5294, Springer Verlag, pages 65–74, Eindhoven, The Netherland, October 20–21, 2008, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-540-88322-7.
Social impact before money.
Mobsya – A nonprofit association
As the objectives of the project are not commercial, but the commercial activity is necessary to their accomplishment, we created a nonprofit association: Mobsya. All benefits generated by the association’s activity belong to the association only, and are reinvested in the project.
Mobsya takes care of the Thymio products by developing, industrializing, producing, distributing and supporting them. All these activities are done in collaboration with the Thymio open-source ecosystem members. This can mean co-developing a software interface or a hardware object with a research institute or a private person for example.
Mobsya also takes care of Thymio brand protection and communication, by creating and animating this website for example.
Another core objective of Mobsya is to foster creation of open-source contributions for Thymio by the ecosystem members and bring them to light by displaying them on this website or by communicating about them.
Licenses & Credits
Thymio Suite – GNU LGPL 3.0
See author list
Aseba & Thymio VPL – GNU LGPL 3.0
See author list
Scratch – BSD 3
Blockly – Apache License 2.0
Images & illustration – CC-BY-SA 3.0
Mobsya, EPFL-MOBOTS, Francesco Mondada.
Texts and translations – CC-BY-SA 4.0
Mobsya, ICanLocalize, Roman Brügger.
Some text from this website have been copied from the Thymio wikidot website.
Thymio wiki – CC-BY-SA 3.0
Thanks to every community member who helped to create, maintain and translate our wikidot website.
Special thanks to : Basil Stotz, Podge, Ezio Somà, Stéphane Magnenat, Francesco Mondada, Michael Bonani, Florian Vaussard, Fanny Riedo, Christophe Barraud, Francisco Botero, Moti Ben Ari, Vincent Becker, Manon Briod, Maria Beltran, Frank Bonnet, Chloe Dickson, Paolo Rossetti, Bernhard Britsch, Léa Pereyre, Evgeniia Bonnet.
Winter and Halloween activities – CC-BY-SA 3.0
Maria Beltran, Manon Briod, Léa Pereyre for EPFL-MOBOTS with the support of Gebert Rüf Stiftung.
Thymio Challenge Activities & Thymio Challenge Pack – CC-BY-SA 3.0
Mobsya, Tungsteno Design, Joyce Maurin.
Is your name missing ?
Thymio is the perfect open source robot to assist the teacher in the digital education era. Thymio has been initiated by the MOBOTS group at EPFL with the help of partners and is commercialized by the nonprofit association MOBSYA in Renens, Switzerland.
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