We're in an era of DIY electronics, robotics, Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, the Internet of Things, etc., where lots things in a prototyping stage and even, apparently, some finished projects "look like bombs" based on pop culture, with all sorts of wires and components which seem inexplicable to the uninitiated but are entirely benign.
|Circuitry to control 2 DC motors with an Arduino|
Your correspondent has been teaching an after-school group one day a week at the granddaughter's elementary school where, this year, we took apart a broken printer to harvest the motor systems and will wire one of them up independently to make what we're dubbing a laser shooting robot. ("Robot" is strong - the kids will control it, it's not autonomous - but I find they're bored by "electronics" and love "robots," so it's a robot.)
Though I didn't blog about it, Grits must admit to watching the whole "clock boy" episode with great interest because our project poses similar risks of misinterpretation by the ignorant. When you use an Arduino, breadboard and H-bridge chip to control a simple DC motor, the resulting patch of wires would "look like a bomb" once it's jammed into a briefcase or backpack, even though it couldn't be more benign.
Partly for that reason, after the clock-boy incident I decided to hunt down a pre-fab part that would control a motor without them having to wire up a chip themselves. The last thing I want is some cretinous bully, whether cop or administrator, hassling my kids over a project that's supposed to be fun for them. So risk aversion lessens their learning experience. I don't like that, but it's the practical effect that story had on our little program.
This thing about arresting kids over their electronics gear will likely continue to happen - especially for youth whose families hail from south or west Asia - because electronics have become so much more accessible to kids at a younger and younger age and fear appears to have outstripped reason.
School cops and administrators need a better grasp of what hobbyist electronics look like before assuming every brown-skinned kid with a wired up project is a villain from an episode of Homeland.