Review: Brick‘R‘knowledge – Learn everything from Ω to GHz

December 15, 2016 | 14:00
The base configuration (Basic Set) of the
Brick‘R‘knowledgeelectronic construction set
comprises 19 blocks, just enough to make you want it.
When questions arise about teaching material for electronics, you tend to remember the heady period of your own apprenticeship! To judge by the proven difficulties that many companies have today in finding competent electronics technicians, one has to wonder if the teaching of electronics is receiving adequate attention. We are passionate about tomorrow’s components, but are we giving enough attention to new enthusiasts?

Brick‘R‘knowledge: everything from Ω to GHz

At first glance, this modular system for learning electronics, from the company Allnet, seems of the type to arouse interest in anyone with an educational bone in their body,
Extended configuration (Advanced set): 111 blocks
Now you’re talking!
But this is not the only such system and one wonders, when everyone delights in virtual and augmented reality, if this seemingly classical approach has the potential to spark interest in a beginner?

This question was in my mind while I was discovering this system. Let’s look at where I stand now after playing around with the basic and extended configurations (photos opposite).

The Brick‘R‘knowledge project is ambitious; its breadth increases as you discover more of it. It was launched in 2104 at a radio amateurs’ conference, by Rolf-Dieter Klein (DM7RDK). If I mention his callsign, it’s not just to confirm the German origin of this project, but for other reasons which will soon become clear.

It is offered in English and in other languages, it’s a rich, varied, coherent collection, with several dozen different modules: it encourages beginners, once past the initial learning stage, to rub shoulders with Arduino, photovoltaic techniques, tubes and even…. radio frequencies. And that was unexpected! At the heart of this open system is a concept of dominoes, horizontally stackable, mostly 3.5 cm square, some bigger, but all multiples of the base size, compatible electrically and mechanically, with usually only one component per block.

Hermaphroditic connectors

Nothing to be afraid of here, this is well-tested..
Depending on the model and the components, these robustly encapsulated blocks are each equipped with 2, 3 or 4 connectors, all identical. The principle of these 4-way connectors (2 pins for signal and 2 for ground), at once male and female, seems reliable and durable. At first, being careful, the handling of the blocks seems a bit delicate, but one quickly acquires dexterity and confidence.
 
Example of a teaching circuit:
Astable multivibrator (Image: Michael Knieling)
 
The connector pins are bare, but security and isolation are not very important. There is a small risk of a short-circuit, as is inherent in most electronics, but knowing this the learner will take appropriate care in his first steps.
Some modules permit crossing or multiplying lines. For example, to the side is the crossing of the base lines in a two-transistor astable multivibrator. If the learner connects one of the two crossing blocks (to the left of the capacitors) the wrong way round, the circuit will not oscillate. This may seem trivial, but it illustrates that you can’t just connect the blocks together; a little attention and judgment are needed. Before getting to this multivibrator, the learner will have already assembled thirty or so simple circuits.

So that the learner does not get lost in this abundance, the color of the edge of the block indicates its type. Not sure if this helps a lot, but it does show richness and variety: DIY | Passive | Active Basic | Actuator/sensor | Opto | System |  integrated-circuit  | HF MHz* | HF GHz*
The assembly of so many blocks poses no risk of bad contacts; the construction can be moved easily. Its mechanical rigidity is such that the modules can be used even by clumsy learners.
* Yes, you read that right: MHz and GHz... we’ll get back to this!
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