Funded! This project was successfully funded on October 11, 2013.

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Little Robot Friends are cute, smart, and customizable robots - each with a unique personality that develops as you interact with them.

Pre-orders are now available at www.littlerobotfriends.com!!

Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to hear our next big plans for our Little Robot Friends!

Here at Aesthetec Studio we've been working on big interactive projects for years, and for a while now we've wanted to make something 'Little'. 

What are the 'Little Robot Friends'?

The Little Robot Friends are a collection of cute and smart autonomous objects. They can sense the amount of light in a room, they can hear with a small integrated microphone, they can detect your touch and they can also communicate with other Little Robot Friends using infrared light (like your TV remote). They have two RGB LED eyes and a 250mW speaker for expressing their current mood. The brain is an 8-bit 32K microcontroller that provides a lot of space for coding behaviours and storing memories. 

In fact, this microcontroller is the same one found in the vast majority of Arduino products - which means that the Little Robot Friends can be easily reprogrammed in the Arduino environment for those who like to tinker.

Loading some initial firmware on a prototype.
Loading some initial firmware on a prototype.

Each Little Robot is powered by two rechargeable AAA batteries, and depending on the frequency of use should last for weeks or months on a single charge. 

Aside from all the hard work put into the circuit design, we've also wanted to create a beautiful object - one that invited you to decorate and personalize it, but could also stand alone with no embellishments. 

We love the combination of LEDs and wood - so we've designed a couple different bases that are CNC milled from Oak, Maple, Poplar and Baltic Birch. A good quality wood doesn't require any stain, so we've decided to keep it natural. 

Our in-house CNC mill making our prototype base designs
Our in-house CNC mill making our prototype base designs

We also played around with a variety of different shapes before deciding on the three that we would initially produce - although we would love to make more!!

See who's been talking to us!

Television Ontario (TVO)'s segment on Makers

An interview with Mobilegeeks!

Little Robots with Big Personalities

We think we've created something beautiful and charming, but what makes it really special is the personality. Every Little Robot Friend has 6 resistor ‘shoelaces’, each representing a different personality trait. Depending on the value of the resistor, it changes the initial personality of the Robot and determines some of its characteristics.

Six personality traits are set by six resistor 'shoelaces'
Six personality traits are set by six resistor 'shoelaces'

For example, one shoelace controls the continuum between brave and timid, and will affect how it responds to different stimuli - like being afraid of the dark. However, if you comfort your Little Robot Friend by touching it's hair, it will gain confidence and slowly get braver. 

Each interaction with your Little Robot Friend is stored as a memory, and changes how it will behave over time. We are working hard to make this a profound experience, one that can surprise you and make you smile as you watch your Friend grow up. 

Customize Your Robot

Pick one of our three body shapes!
Pick one of our three body shapes!

  We're offering two ways to get a Little Robot Friend - Random or Custom. By choosing to customize your robot reward, you'll be able to pick the body shape, the wood and shape of the base, the decal pack, and choose which resistors you'd like to set the personality. This is a great if you want to design a Robot Friend that reminds you of someone you know, or want to give a friend a Robot that will remind them of you!

Choose one of the wood materials and shape for the base, too!!
Choose one of the wood materials and shape for the base, too!!

We hope you give your Little Robot Friend a name and a little extra decoration to make it more than just another design object or piece of novel technology - but something that keeps you company, sparks conversation, develops a community and lives up to the role described in the project title - a Little Robot Friend.

The Dock!!

For weeks now we've been telling people that the Dock is going to be much more than just a way to program the Little Robot Friends - and now we can show you! One of the things we love about the Little Robot Friends is that it is easily hackable. Since it's compatible with Arduino, it's easy to write new code or swap out resistors for sensors. But not everyone wants to mess up the look of their Robots. What if there was a way to add new inputs and outputs without modifying the Robot? Now there is! Each Dock is a whole other Arduino-compatible circuit!! Yes - it will act as a programmer in it's default mode, but you can reprogram it to add virtually anything to your Robot! Want to add a temperature sensor so your new Friend can tell you when he's cold? Add it to the Dock! Want to add some servo motors and make your Robot a roaming cuteness machine? Add it to the Dock! Want to add a flux capacitor so your Robot can travel through time? Please share with the rest of us!

Designed, Fabricated, Assembled by Hand in Toronto, Canada

Here at Aesthetec Studio, we fully embrace the pursuit of digital crafts. Even though we hope for this project to take off in major ways, we will always assemble each Robot by hand at our studio in Toronto, Canada. Our circuit boards are printed at a great local PCB facility (just 20 minutes away), and our wood is sourced from a local lumber yard (5 minutes away) and milled by a local CNC shop (30 minutes away). By supporting local vendors, we can assure product quality while having the comfort of knowing that the Little Robot Friends are being 'born' in healthy happy environments. 

Designed, fabricated, assembled and shipped from Toronto, Canada
Designed, fabricated, assembled and shipped from Toronto, Canada

Why We Need Your Help

We've got a solid physical design, but there are a couple things we still need to do. 

1) Our firmware needs a couple more months of coding and testing before it can ship on a large quantity of units. To help get units out faster, we're shipping a developer dock for the first few rounds - so firmware can still be updated after you get your Little Robot Friend in the mail. So we need some time to focus on this, and time is money!

2) We also need help with the initial large quantity production run. If we can produce over 1000 units, we can afford to make these Friends at a reasonable cost. Once that is a success, we will be able to explore producing more units, with more body shapes and more customization options. 

We believe strongly in the project, but without a little financial support to get us started, we're going to have to keep putting it back on the shelf. So please help us out by telling a friend, co-worker, family member about the cutest new Robots on the block.

Rewards Breakdown

How This Project Came To Be... 

Nicebots at Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain - Nice, France (2004)
Nicebots at Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain - Nice, France (2004)

One of the first projects we ever worked on was called “Nicebots,” which featured a group of small, autonomous robots that roamed around the Modern Art Museum in Nice, France. Each robot started out with the same functions. They reacted to stimuli the same way and made similar movements throughout the day. Over the course of the installation, we developed their behaviours so that each robot would develop a distinct character. By the end of the project we had 30 robots, each with their own quirks and charms. Ever since then we have wanted to push our charismatic robots even further.

9VGuy - Fabrica Communication Research Center, Treviso, Italy (2006)
9VGuy - Fabrica Communication Research Center, Treviso, Italy (2006)

A couple years later, we created some small battery-powered robot puppets. The design was simple - a small microcontroller with limited capacity sitting on top of a 9V battery. Touch the button and the robot would speak. This project was fun - but limited in what it could do. What if it had a larger microcontroller? What if it had more sensors? We sketched some initial ideas on how this project could evolve, but it's been sitting on the shelf for over six years collecting dust - until recently.

Last year we started working on the first design for Little Robot Friends, with the goal of launching it as part of the TIFF Kids Festival in Toronto. We created several rounds of prototypes, and developed a simple workshop that would run during the festival, but other 'obligations' got in the way and pushed this project outside the timeline for the festival. So back up on the shelf it went. But several months ago we began thinking about our Little Robot Friends again. Now we have reworked the design, produced some new prototypes and sketched out fresh interactions to program.

One of our 'obligations' taking a snooze while shooting the video. He's amongst the 'little' inspirations for this project.
One of our 'obligations' taking a snooze while shooting the video. He's amongst the 'little' inspirations for this project.

That's the story of how we got here.

Who We Are...

We are a small studio based in Toronto, Canada that develops custom interactive-devices. From design to final fabrication, we make electronics, software and installations for events and institutions, large and small. Our team comes from artistic backgrounds with a passion for engineering (or vice versa) and it shows in the things we create.

Check out our site, or our Flickr feed to see more of the things we do!

http://www.aesthetec.net

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

We've been making custom electronic objects for years now, so we're very familiar with the process and pitfalls of taking on such a project.

Lately we've embraced the philosophy of forming relationships with local vendors to meet all our production needs. We work with a PCB production facility that is 20 minutes from our studio, which gives us great quality control and the satisfaction of seeing first-hand the environment where our circuits are fabricated.

As for the wooden bases, we use a local lumber supplier (5 minutes away) and have an in-house CNC mill for doing our initial limited-quantity run. As we step up the quantity we will team up with one or several local vendors to handle the bulk milling of bases.

We've planned for 125 units in our initial limited-quantity run (105 for rewards, 10 for testing, 10 for friends & family), and are expecting to produce 1000 units at minimum during our large production run. The initial run will begin late October, with assembly happening mid-late November, and shipping early December. The large production run will begin early-December, with assembly happening mid January - early February with shipping beginning early February.

Firmware development is already active, and we hope to have a solid beta by end of November. Backers of our initial units will receive a developer dock and software for updating the microcontroller. At this point we will also be reaching out to some backers to help us with additional testing and debugging. Final firmware will be ready by late January so it will be ready for our first shipment of final production Robots.

Now should our campaign become WILDLY successful, we will definitely need some more help in the assembly and shipping of units. We've confirmed with our PCB facility that they can handle a larger quantity of units 5K+, and we will involve more local fabricators to handle the milling. Our studio is large enough to house a larger assembly operation, but we will need some more hands on deck - so if you're in Toronto and love working with your hands, give us a shout!

FAQ

  • Yes - but just the body shape. We will send out a survey after the campaign to ask which Robot you'd like, but the base wood and shape, and the personality resistors will be chosen from what we have on hand.

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  • We will send out a survey after the campaign to ask exactly how you want us to customize your Robot. So you can buy one now, then take some time to consider the exact details of your new Little Friend!

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  • Yes they do! You tell us which options you'd like (after the campaign succeeds) and we will put it together just for you!

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  • No. All variables for personality and long-term memories are stored in a part of the microcontroller called EEPROM. This part of memory will persist even when the power is removed!

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  • The LRF's can be programmed in the Arduino environment, specifically using the C/C++ language.

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  • We've carefully talked this over as a team, and decided it was best to place a limit on this initial Kickstarter batch of Little Robot Friends. We're familiar with our constraints (in resources, experience, and time) and want to make sure this first batch will meet the level of detail and quality we have in mind. We want to make sure our backers have an amazing experience so we have a solid foundation to build upon after this campaign ends.

    We hope you understand! Stay posted through our Twitter / Facebook / upcoming website, because we definitely have big plans for these little guys!

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  • Pledge $10 or more
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    9 backers Limited (91 left of 100)

    Pitching-in like a good Friend! We will send you a sticker and an engraved wooden thank-you gift as a show of support!

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    300 backers All gone!

    Make your own Friends!! At this level, you'll get an unassembled Little Robot Friend to put together all by yourself. Don't worry - all small components are already on the board, you'll just need to solder the headers, LED eyes, shoelace resistors, speaker and battery holder. You'll also need some glue for attaching the Robot to it's base. We'll even send you info on how to make a programming cable using an old dongle or Arduino. Oh yeah, and you'll have to provide your own batteries. Sorry!!

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    299 backers Limited (1 left of 300)

    Custom Robot!! For this level, you'll be able to tell us exactly which Little Robot Friend you'd like. Then you can design the initial behaviour, choose the base shape & wood type and select which decal pack you'd like included. Create a Little Robot Friend that reminds you of someone you know, or get one that acts like you and give it to a friend!!

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    Make your own Family! At this level, you'll get one of each Little Robot Friend to assemble at home. Check out the 'Make your own Friends' reward for more details.

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    186 backers Limited (114 left of 300)

    Robot and Development Dock!! Want to tinker with your Little Robot Friend? Perhaps use it as an educational tool for teaching programming or electronics to a child (or parent)? This level will include the Developer Dock with a customized Little Robot so you can really personalize how it behaves in the world. Or, come up with some fun ways to use your new Little Friend to perform specific tasks!!

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    150 backers All gone!

    Make your own Family + Dock! Due to popular demand, we're creating a rewards where you'll get one of each three Little Robot Friends, plus a Developer Dock. See 'Make your own Family' for more details!

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    78 backers Limited (22 left of 100)

    Holiday Robot!! Limited-edition, hand-crafted and just in time for the holidays, these first 100 Little Robot Friends with be from our initial limited-quantity production run. Each will be marked with an edition number, and will include a developer dock so you can update your Little Robot as we continue to develop it's behaviour. We will also include a special holiday-themed decal pack so you can dress your Little Robot for the special occasion!!

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    56 backers Limited (94 left of 150)

    The Full Family Package! At this level, you'll get to one of each Little Robot Friend, each with custom options and delivered to you fully assembled! See the 'Custom Robot' reward for more details.

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    95 backers Limited (55 left of 150)

    The Full Family + the Dog!! Well... if the dog was the Developer Dock. Due to popular demands, we're bundling a Developer Dock with the three assembled Little Robot Friends. See 'The Full Family Package' for more details!

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    2 backers Limited (8 left of 10)

    Educational Package!! Due to popular demand, we've created a bundle for educators who want to get a handful of Little Robot Friends for a classroom workshop. This reward will include 12 unassembled Robots and 4 developer docks.

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    1 backer Limited (4 left of 5)

    Royal Robot Package! What a Friend!!! In order to make this project happen, we need a couple good friends like you. You'll get a special limited-edition Little Robot Friend + Developer Dock with a custom engraved base with the chosen name of your new robo-buddy in time for the holidays. We will also send you TWO final production versions when completed in early 2014, and as a special thank-you, we will film a short video of YOUR Little Robot Friend being hand-assembled here in Toronto that you can post to all your non-robot friends.

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