There are a lot of Robot Kits and Toys out there. But they all are basically RC cars or just have a few pre-recorded motions that get old. We wanted to make a robot that really seemed alive and spontaneous. And we did it.
LittleBot Buddy is the 9th robot that we have made at LittleBots. We have been working to make robotics and STEM exciting and fun. And it hasn't changed with Buddy. Except now anyone can enjoy this robot. Whether you are a builder or not. You can just "hang out" with Buddy.
When we started looking for what our next robot would be, we wanted to start moving closer to home. We wanted a make a robot that wouldn't just be for the classroom or workbench. We wanted a bot that we would enjoy just having around all day at our desk. A robot anyone can enjoy. As we worked on it we knew that we had to make a bot that you could fall in love with. It couldn't be an arm, or a little rover that would run out of battery. It would have to be a guy that you could interact with naturally and was always ready. We also knew that he couldn't be a robot, he had to be Alive. Alive, that was hard. We had to create a robot that would be spontaneous. that you could interact with and feel like he was listening to you and talking back.
As with all of our previous kits we have created the Buddy with the Meped Arduino Board. This board is very flexible and is ideal for makers and students to expand the robot by adding more sensors and capabilities.
There are 8 digital outputs that can run servos, buzzers, and LED's. And there are a number of analog inputs for adding more sensors. Along with bluetooth and IR inputs ready to go.
With this board it is possible to add on Arms, sound sensors, and all kinds of other programmable devices.
Buddy's primary chip is an Arduino nano. So it is fully open-source and easy to find the resources to expand the robot as needed.
This was hard. The software is what makes Buddy come alive. It defines how he moves and responds. It is pretty cool.
The standard software that Buddy Comes with allows him to interact with you. He will see you and react. And he will be curious about his surroundings. He does this by constantly updating a map of his surroundings. So he will notice when you place an object near him. He will inspect it and figure out how big it is.
Expanding on this, you can surprise and play with Buddy by placing and removing objects inside his space. Depending on how he is feeling that day we can be surprised, angry, or excited when he discovers the changes.
Buddy generates all of his actions spontaneously. They are not prerecorded or predefined. He literally decided every single motion on the fly. And it is based on how he "feels" at any given time.
How Buddy Sees
Buddy sees by updating certain waypoint in his area, And then inspecting items that pop up as he looks around. His eyes are not camera. They are a simple proximity sensor. But he uses to build a simple 3D map of the area around him.
When he sees something in the worldview change. He will react to it. It is a simple system that we had to use some clever pieces of psychology to make it appear alive and more complex.
Apps, Arduino and Blockly
There is no app for this version of Buddy (though there might be one in our stretch goals). When he is built or pulled out of the Box he is ready to go. Just plug him in and then have fun.
But Buddy is a STEM kit. He is meant to teach robotics and engineering and the psychology and interaction that comes with those in a way that is fun. What is better than building a robot that actually seems alive.
Buddy can be reprogrammed. We will be posting code samples in Arduino and he is compatible with graphical systems like makeblock and Scratch. We want it to be easy to work with this little guy in and out of the classroom.
Cute. That is how we wanted him to be described. Cute. We wanted you to say "Awwww" when you see him. He's like a potted plant that happens to be alive on your desk.
There are few bells and whistles. The entire kit has fewer than 15 screws. Less than 25 parts total.
This helps him stand up to the rigors of the classroom STEM groups. He can be picked up by his neck (not recommended) and likely not damaged. Buddy is really an exercise in minimalism. This makes him very robust.
Top Quality parts
There is nothing "cheap" about this kit. Every decision was made to make a top quality product.
The main board of Buddy is manufactured inside of the US and is a system that we have used in the last 8 of our robotics kits. It is solid and battle tested.
The motors through Buddy, are top quality metal-geared servos used in performance RC aircraft. They are not typical off the shelf items. They are precision devices that can stand the test of time and the abuse they might suffer at the hands of kids.
Buddy is fully 3D printing. We made this choice because is allows Kids to do more than just program the robot. Seeing that he is 3D printed invited them to print accessories or redesign him and then print those parts at school or a library. 3D Printing opens the doors for more engineering thinking, which is the whole point of our kits..
Buddy will be our 9th Robot. All the rest have also been launched on Kickstarter. All of them have been funded and fulfilled on time. And we continue to manufacture and support them.
Buddy is a bit of a culmination. We have been working towards him since the early Littlebots. Experimenting with design practices and software that made them entertaining and educational. All of that is going into Buddy.
The Other Bots
Social Robots have had a hard time this year. Nearly every startup that has tried to make a Social Robot has failed. Kuri, Jibo, Vector.
But these bots all had large disadvantages. They promised so much and had very little utility. Buddy is a STEM kit to teach kids about robotics. His point for being is to create a simple creature that can be added to a STEM classroom or desk and be a fun stationary platform for coding or just having fun.
He is a social robot for STEM education.
The Buddy kit includes every part that you need in order to build a fully functional Buddy Arduino Robot. It includes the plastic parts, electronics, mechanics and tutorials you need to build a desktop pal.
If you are not technical. But still want to have a little friend on your Desk, you can get this version. This is a fully assembled and tested Buddy. Just plug him in and enjoy. And if you ever want to reprogram him, you certainly can with most arduino tools.
$4000- Talking Buddy Kit
At $4000 on the campaign we will release a version of the LittleBot kit that includes Audio output through a buzzer and update the LittleBot Code to include a style of Droidspeak that will complement his motion.
$8000 - Android App and Alarm Clock Function
Right now Buddy does not need an app. But when we reach $8000 we will develop an app that will allow kids to control Buddy and record new motions. As well as a feature much more useful in day-to-day life. An alarm Clock Function.
We all hate our alarm Clocks. But what if they moved, were a bit cuter, whistled at us, and would only snooze if we played with them. We will release that functionality along with the Android App.
$13000 - Amazon Echo Integration
Right now Buddy can only see you. But what if he could hear you. When we reach this goal we will release a version of Buddy that is able to integrate with Amazon Alexa via wifi. Then he can truly be an interactive alarm clock or an adorable face to your otherwise monolithic Alexa device.
Risks and challenges
There are always risks when creating a hardware product. A hurricane can throw your container off the ship. A supplier might go out of business. The wrong parts can be sent to you. Or customs can lose your pieces. Or there is a design flaw that isn't noticed until beta testers.
The advantage we have is that we have run into all of these. This is going to be our 9th LittleBots kickstarter. And we have never been late before (though we have had close calls). But we can't guarantee that an act of God won't stop us on this one. All we can do it push hard as we have always done to overcome the problems that can arise.
But we have the design done. We have the suppliers verified and some inventory in stock. The software is practically done. (Though we are going to keep modifying it.) We are ready to start production tomorrow. And we have a lot of practice at this. So we are as ready as a Kickstarter can be to fulfill your orders. And we are 8 for 8 up to this point.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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