Last year we met the team a few weeks before the unveiling of SAM and the start of their Kickstarter campaign which would achieve an impressive £125,500 in backing and an order of over 600 kits. This month the units shipped.
SAM is a project of students from the Royal College of Art and engineers from Imperial College London who wanted to develop something similar to littleBits but without the physical connections. They arrived at a design which equipped each module with Bluetooth capabilities, connecting them in circuits using a computer.
Each module features a single function – a button, a buzzer, a motor, and so on. Using software the modules can be connected together wirelessly to build circuits without solder or code.
Sandwiched between two PCBs is a tiny battery and the circuitry it powers. An on/off button and micro USB port pokes out from the side and is enclosed by a soft casing similar to that of Twine. Typically about 20cm they’re an ideal size for all sorts of projects and light enough to carry in your pocket. 8 different modules are provided.
- RGB LED
- Servo Motor
- Sliding Potentiometer
- Tilt/ Shake Sensor
- DC Motor
- Cloud Module
The Cloud Module allows you to run circuits independently from a computer and has wifi capabilities for Twitter and Facebook communications.
Running the provided SAM software for the first time will teach you the basics of circuit creation. The on-boarding will have you create a button which when pushed will take a photo of yourself with your webcam and set it as your profile picture. An incentive to not be topless, as I was, maybe.
Activating modules is as simple as turning them on and pairing them via the software. Then it’s just a case of dragging them into the board.
Connections are made by dragging from a module’s connection point to another. For example, if I wanted a button to turn on a light I would drag a connector from the former to the latter. Instantly a real-world connection is made and I can use the new circuit.
Double clicking on any module will open a window showing settings where you can edit things like the colour of the LED or the angle of a servo motor.
Additional to the modules are 4 Apps – functionality that the software provides which act like modules. A webcam app utilises the computer’s webcam. Twitter integration provides the ability to both tweet and trigger events based on searches. Facebook integration allows circuits to post updates.
I created a simple circuit which takes a picture of myself and tweets it when a push button is pressed. This is something that would take me days to code and build but took a mere 5 minutes with SAM.
Behaviours allow manipulation of outputs. The Cycle Behaviour causes the The Buzzer or LED to sequence scales of volume, frequency, colour ranges or brightness. We also have a toggle, output inversion, the ability to turn a sensor into a switch, a filter which activates an event only when a value is inside a range, and logging.
Building on my previous circuit I used the RGB cycle Behaviour to blink a different colour when the photo was taken. Again – super simple.
A set of different timers can control when events are triggered or altered. The Interval timer will trigger an event up to 24 hours repeatedly. The Counter is a stopwatch with an output. The Delay will pause for a set amount of time up to 24 hours. The Hold module will pause the state of an event for a period of time up to 24 hours, and the Time Trigger can activate an event on a specific date and time.
For those of you that way inclined there are a set of logic gates you can use to create some pretty complex circuits with NOR, XOR, OR, NAND, and AND.
For the programmers there is the ability to create custom code for SAM. The documentation appears to be a work in progress as the only method available is one to control the RGB LED. For now, my test was to blink the LED three times with the Techmog colours and it was no trouble at all.
Putting it All Together
I personally think this is the best thing I’ve ever made. Combining the Twitter integration, the servo motor and a Hello Fresh box that’s been in my kitchen for 5 years I’ve made a Twitter notifier in the form of a small flag that pokes up from behind my laptop screen whenever someone says “Hello @Techmog” on Twitter.
5 kits range from £89 to £599, each with increasing numbers of modules, and can be bought from the SAM Labs shop.
- Explode: x1 Buzzer, x1 Button, x1 Light
- Learn: x1 Button, x1 Light, x1 Servo, x1 Slider
- Make: x2 Buttons, x2 Lights, x1 Servo, x1 Slider, x1 Tilt Sensor, x1 DC motor
- Pro: x1 Cloud Module, x2 Buttons, x2 Lights, x1 Servo, x1 Slider, x1 Tilt Sensor, x2 DC Motors, x1 Light Sensor, x1 Thermometer
- Family: x3 Button, x5 Lights, x3 Servos, x3 Slider, x2 Tilt Sensor, x3 DC Motors, x1 Light Sensor, x1 Thermometer, x7 Micro USB Cable, x1 Cloud Module
For a project straight out of Kickstarter I’m impressed with how well SAM works. Bluetooth devices are often a faff to pair and I expected some pain, but the whole process was a breeze.
It would be nice to have a breakout board for some custom modules, but the ones provided are more than enough to have fun with.
— Techmog (@Techmog) July 6, 2015