Can an 8-Year-Old Build a Digital Camera? Bigshot says, “Yes!”

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If you could build your own digital camera at 8 years old, you would be a very impressive little big shot. This is the goal of the Bigshot Digital Camera Kit, which was developed by Columbia University Computer Science Professor Shree Nayar and his team of students and engineers. “It’s about getting kids’ hands dirty,” says Professor Nayar, who first sketched out the Bigshot on a newspaper page in 2006. “In an age when software rules, I want kids to know how to build hardware.” 

Photo by Jeffrey Schifman/Courtesy of Columbia Engineering

While the heart of this project is hands-on scientific education, it also embraces the creativity and experience of sharing that’s at the core of the photographic medium. It’s also an altruistic endeavor in that the financial success of the camera will be turned around to expand the availability of the kits to children in “severely under-served” communities around the globe. In real speak, Bigshot donates as many cameras as they can afford to schools and community programs that could otherwise not afford such expenditures.

The Bigshot Kit comes with all of the components and tools needed to make a working digital camera. It’s considered do-able for children as young as 8 years of age, and it’s ideal for middle-schoolers. The primary goal is to draw young minds to science and engineering, and in building the Bigshot, a child will apply fundamental concepts of optics, mechanics, electromagnetism, and image processing. When the camera is complete, with panorama lens, 3-D imaging capability, crank power, and free software download, it belongs to the child and they are encouraged to create images that they can then share with the world. It’s easy to imagine an online community of “big shots” sharing images from their schools and communities with other big shots all around the globe. Remember when we used to write to pen pals?

Photo by Shree Nayar

The trinity of experience at Bigshot is Learn, Create, Express, and what could be better than that for a kid? In a world where children are increasingly accustomed to high-tech finery, the ability to understand how a device is made and to make it not only educates and fosters pride in accomplishment, but encourages a child to recognize that their ready-made device is indeed a produced piece of engineering with a design, a plan, a history, and hopefully, a future.