Discover more from Robots & Startups
Unboxing my secret robot addiction - part 2
Well, not so secret really. Crowdfunding has a lot to answer for!
Wow, Part 1 only got up to 2013 - I’ve fallen for so many more robots since then! Robots, and Robot Projects, like the unfunded 2012 Robogames documentary.
This post is for paid subscribers first to show my appreciation for all your support for Robots and Startups, but it will be fully available to all after two weeks.
Robots & Startups is a reader-supported publication. To receive premium posts first and to support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
Moss Modular Robotics - $339
From the makers of Cubelets, which I also loved. Work on MOSS began in 2010 as a research project funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and the ASEE. Early bird kits due in early 2014, and received on July 6 2014, so well done!
I should have learned my lesson - because my kids took over the Cubelets, and then they took over the Moss Robot Kit as well (Early Bird Advanced Builder Kit). It’s now permanently in a box in my daughter’s bedroom but hey, she’s gone on to become an aerospace engineer so win/win!
Sweep: scanning LiDAR - $259
Remember 2015? Everyone who had been trying to build mobile robots in the previous years realized that there weren’t affordable, usable sensors. The LiDAR gold rush started!
The team behind Sweep, Kent Williams and Tyson Messori, worked on projects ranging from robotic chassis design to space grade LiDAR systems at companies like iRobot, ASC, and ATK. Predicted delivery was Nov 2016 and shipping began early 2017, which is much much better than the other robot I supported in 2015!
Nailbot - $159
Pree Walia and Nailbot were finalists in the 2015 Robot Launch competition, when the idea of using computer vision and robotics to do consumer cosmetics was really novel.
Predicted delivery 2016 - actual delivery status - shipped in 2022 only mine didn’t arrive. No worries, my kids are now in college anyway.
Bots_Alive (5 Complete Kits) - $290
Created out of MIT Media Lab research by Brad Knox, Bots_Alive turns remote controlled Hexbug Spiders into playful, smart and autonomous creatures, “creating a new, more organic kind of character artificial intelligence”.
Bots_alive robots hesitate, look around curiously, and make mistakes. They’re unpredictable.
There are many excellent robot products that aim to teach children to code. Those robots build the ship. We see the curiosity-driven play of bots_alive to be the prior step: building a passion in children for the human-centered design, technology, engineering, and math that drives the robots.
Predicted delivery 2017 - actual delivery 2017 as best as I can remember. Lovely research, great team and product that delivered! These were donated to Robot Garden.
Qoobo : A pillow with a wagging tail - ¥10,000
Qoobo is a robotic pillow with a tail intended to provide a sense of comfort to users. When caressed, it waves gently. When rubbed, it swings playfully. And, it occasionally wags just to say hello. It’s a comforting communication that warms your heart the way animals do. Begin your “tail therapy” today and wrap yourself with fuzzy love.
I met the team from Yukai at the SVR/NEDO Rise of the Robots event at SRI International in 2017 and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a tail wagging cushion. It’s still on my couch, although my cats prefer to keep it out of work.
Predicted delivery September 2018 - Actual delivery October 2018
Vector by Anki: A giant roll forward for robot kind. - $399 for 2 Vector Bundle
Vector was an amazing feat of engineering - equivalent to the first iphone to my mind. So much capability was packed into such a tiny shape, and yet the shape was impeccably designed for character and interactivity. Also for surviving children.
From the beginning, we designed Vector to be approachable. Vector’s form factor went through many prototype iterations, testing if he should move on wheels or tank-like treads, how he would manipulate objects, how his eyes would be shaped, where his battery pack would live, even where each of his gears (more than 50) would be positioned. Once the final form was selected, our team needed to design the systems that help him interpret the world: the four-microphone array that allows Vector to not only hear, but perceive where a sound is coming from and focus on it, or the edge-detection sensors that not only help him stay on a table, but identify when he’s correctly positioned on his charging cradle. We also added a “time of flight” (ToF) laser distance sensor to the front. This sensor is used in Vector’s simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) capabilities, and assists with obstacle detection. With nearly 700 parts, each component needed to be placed perfectly.
Vector’s physical design gives him access to a variety of sensors, but how he processes that information is just as important. Vector’s integrated HD camera has 120-degree ultra-wide field of view, which he uses to see the room he’s in, identify people and objects, and detect motion. Vector also uses an infrared laser scanner to track distance between objects and map his environment as he explores, and a four-microphone array that can pinpoint positional audio. These and other sensors provide the inputs that drive Vector’s emotion engine, with each data point influencing whether he is happy, sad, curious, or any other emotion. Each emotion’s level informs how Vector will react to stimuli. When he detects his owner, he’s excited and eager to help. When he detects a sound behind him, he’ll rotate 180 degrees to investigate. When his owner pets his backpack (where the capacitive touch sensor is positioned), he’ll relax. And if his drop sensors detect the table’s edge, he’ll be momentarily surprised—then remember that area as a boundary before he moves to another area to explore. This system of movement, exploration, and emotional stimuli form a foundation that we apply Vector’s personality to.
Vector’s character is central to the relationship you’ll have with him when you bring him home. Our goal was to develop a genuine, believable, and surprising personality that naturally reacts to the inputs it receives from its computer vision and emotion engines. To achieve this with the authenticity required to trigger an emotional connection, we found small wild animals and exotic pets - fennec foxes, sugar gliders, and others—to be useful analogs to Vector as a robotic creature who's natural habitat is the home. The way these animals act is crisp and pure. They're not performing for anybody; they're simply reacting to the world around them, and yet they’re mesmerizing to watch. That is, in a nutshell, the essence of Vector's character.
Predicted delivery October 2018 - actual delivery October 2018
I’m going to finish Part 2 of Unboxing my Crowdfunded Robot Addiction here. I have so many great memories of the Anki team and products. I hope you do too!
But wait…. there’s more!! Part 3 coming up soon. What are the best robot crowdfunding campaigns that you’ve supported?