SAM Labs Founder on Becoming an Inventor

SAM Labs – set up to inspire the next generation to invent and create using technology – have teamed up with the Science Museum to offer an all-in-one inventor kit. We spoke to the founder, Joachim Horn…

SAM Labs is a London-based startup that was created by a team of engineers from Imperial College London and designers from the Royal College of Art. It offers an engaging Internet of Things toolkit that empowers anyone to invent and build internet-connected gadgets, prototypes and products in seconds without any previous coding experience. 

What does the name stand for?
SAM is named after my younger brother Samuel, it was a simple and genuine choice to give technology a human and compassionate personality. The funny thing is that some people have started looking into ‘SAM’ as some sort of smart acronym for Sensor Actor Modules… I can’t claim I was that smart.

When and why did you set up the company?
The Internet of Things (IoT) will see billions of Internet-connected devices running our lives. We felt it was our mission to empower people with the right tools to shape the world they wanted to live in.

In 2014, I set up SAM Labs to help the next generation of 8-25 year-olds create their own inventions. SAM delivers this empowerment by helping would-be coders, electronics inventors and IoT innovators.

Who was involved at the outset and what skill-set did you each bring?
When I returned from Japan in 2013, I assembled an ‘A-team’ to make SAM Labs a reality. Stelios, a talented electronics engineer, helped me build the first wireless blocks and the first version of the app was thanks our team’s blazing coding skills. Giulio, a talented designer from the Royal College of Art, made the first ‘inventions with SAM’ kits.

I then gathered feedback from various designers and artists and by early 2014 our wireless blocks and app were ready. Combining all these talents allowed us to launch on Kickstarter in late 2014 and we successfully raised £125k in 30 days.

Why do kids need to learn about technology?
Why? Because technology is all around us! You would not be reading this if it were not for computers. But, we believe that the way people currently learn about technology is too detached from their day-to-day.

Often technology is either too difficult or too ‘ready-made’ so there is little room to discover things for yourself. We need to discover more for ourselves so that we can help shape the technology that is all around us. Students need to shape the future of tech, rather than sit back and watch it fly past.

You do not need any previous coding, engineering or electronics skills. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or need to be an ace at mathematics

Should this be balanced with play that involves nature?
Nature is known to be the most innovative inventor of all. So spending time in nature can only make you a better inventor. Did you know that Velcro was an invention inspired by burrs sticking to an engineer’s dog? This reminds me that spending time outside is a great, whatever the purpose, it’s an amazing way to reflect, discover, and be lead to something useful.

We also realised that students want to move freely and don’t want to be tangled in wires, and that is why we made our kits wireless – they work outdoors.

For parents who are anti-screens, is this a good alternative?
Our kit consists of two parts. The first is hardware: wireless blocks that can sense movement, and light that send signals to spin, twist, or buzz your inventions. The second part is the software: the app is where the magic happens. You connect your wireless blocks, activities and projects to each other and the Internet while learning.

Remember that if you spend your entire life behind a screen nothing will get done, so I totally appreciate time off screens. However, some of our generation’s biggest problem-solvers developed incredible skills from behind a screen. So with that in mind, we have developed the right balance of working with a screen and physical building blocks.

On the one hand, you use the software to connect the blocks and to learn how to build your activities and on the other; you physically put those blocks together to make your invention a reality. So fear not, the screen helps you learn and make.

SAM Labs inventor kit

How did the collaboration with the Science Museum come about?
We’re on a mission to make technology and engineering more accessible than ever. We believe the best way of doing that is by making STEM activities more fun so that a generation of inventors can get started in turning their ideas into reality.

The Science Museum has always made learning about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics engaging and fun. Therefore, we got together and got on with building an awesome kit for inventing.

What does this Inventor Kit include and what can you make with it?
The Inventor Kit includes four fully-rechargeable wireless blocks and you make five engaging STEM activities with them. You get the app for free and that walks you through beautifully designed activities step-by-step.

You can make your own electronic songs, master Morse code, make your own alarms, bring drawings to life with sounds and build your own mini drum machine.

Once you’ve finished your first five activities you can see our community page or Facebook page for more ideas. Some of the other projects you can start making include interactive doorbells, photobooths or Internet-powered cars. But enough from me, I want to see what you invent.

Can anyone use these kits, or does your brain need to work in a specific way?
This kit is for everybody! You do not need any previous coding, engineering or electronics skills. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or need to be an ace at mathematics.

What the Inventor Kit allows you to do is instantly get a feel and understanding for the basics of coding, building your own Internet-connected gadgets and solutions simply.

The app allows you to easily ‘drag and drop’ the different wireless blocks and create instantly. There are five activities to get you started, and the app walks you through each one step-by-step. So no need to worry – you will be contributing to the Internet of Things in no time!

If you need some more inspiration we’ve launched a fun competition for kids and parents to get involved in. We want you to create your own activity with the SAM Science Museum Inventor Kit and upload your project to our community page to win a family kit that includes 24 wireless blocks. The winning project will be featured during the last week of our pop-up store in the Science Museum.

SAM Labs