Singapore’s first-ever subscription-based DIY robot has landed. Are we setting ourselves as the sequel for A.I or I, Robot? Are robots going to take over our homes and eventually the earth? Fortunately, despite Robi’s intelligence, he doesn’t match up to Ultron just yet. The only thing we’re going to cave into is his adorable looks and congenial personality.
Build Your Own Robi
Designed by Japanese engineer and Founder/CEO of Robo Garage Tomotaka Takahashi, Robi is an interactive toy robot that you can build over 70 weekly issues. Every issue of the magazine comes with five pieces (starting with the head, arms, legs, waist and finally voice recognition, remote transmitter and physical sensor) and Robi will take a little over a year to complete. The series has seen massive success in Italy, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Every issue of the magazine covers five main topics: The latest technology trends, with Robi introducing products; regular interviews with Tomotaka Takahashi discussing his design philosophy and the future of robotics; famous robot stars from various science fiction films, anime, and manga; reader guide to the various bits and pieces inside their robot, and detailed assembly instructions.
Robi is built from parts sourced from Japan and all you need to put him together is a screwdriver (which comes with the second issue if you don’t already have one). This robot-for-dummies doesn’t require any tedious programming or even a computer as he has been designed for everyone – from children and adults to techies and non-geeks alike. He stands at 35 cm tall and weighs in at a solid 1kg.
His brain uses a microcontroller built by Vstone, an Osaka-based robotics company and he has 20 joints actuated by Futaba servo motors which makes him especially mobile and autonomous. The servos are rather noisy but its not too unexpected.
His Raytron speech recognition chip, which is said to respond to 250 commands (in English, Mandarin and Singlish) and in-ear microphones help him understand your commands and detect your location when you speak to him. The prototype can answer simple questions such as “hello” and “introduce yourself”, Robi can even pay you compliments; just ask him what he thinks of you and he’ll say “I love you”.
For the best results make sure that Robi is facing you, or just slightly off to your side. He can still “hear” you if you speak behind him, but he won’t be able to turn his head to see you. If there are two people talking at the same time in front of Robi, he’ll get a little confused and may not respond to commands.
The microphones are fairly sensitive, but work best in a quiet atmosphere. Much like talking to Siri, you have to speak slowly and clearly to get Robi to understand your commands. Articulation is particularly important when you are speaking in mandarin. It takes while for him to process what you say, so you have to be patient and wait for him to “comprehend” and execute your command before saying another.
Robi’s speaker is found in his chest and he has no volume control – like most children. His eyes light up and change colors to show emotions when he interacts with you. His eyes can glow red, blue, yellow and green while his mouth will glow red. And he can be carried around using the scarf-handle around his neck. Here is also where you’ll find his on/off switch.
Your Personal Robot Pet
You can “play” games with Robi thanks to his IR-sensor located at the front of his head. He can play ball and do various other tasks such as act as a cooking timer or a TV remote (with limited TV models). He can “help” clean the floor (just attach his feet mops) or act as a security robot – the magazine claims that Robi can alert you to strangers at your door and ask them for a security password, if they fail to answer he’ll sound the literal alert.
This probably works best for people who need some”alone time” in their room as Singaporeans aren’t inclined to leaving their doors open for no reason. Also Robi moves rather slowly, so if you expect him to clean the floor, you’d probably get two tiles done before he runs out of battery. Still it’s always nice to have company while you clean (like Cinderella and her mice and birds).
Robi’s full range of motion is best exampled by his “push up” command. He goes from standing to a forward crouch and plank before returning to a crouch and sitting down. He has an incredible sense of balance and is fully animated – he voices huffs and puffs, and even rolls his head around while exclaiming that he is “tired”.
He’s also emotive. Tell Robi he’s cute and he’ll say that you make him blush. However, saying it in Chinese while Robi is sitting down apparently causes him to fall flat on his back in shock (we have no idea why). Say “see you soon” and he’ll say “bye bye” – perfect for those who live alone, don’t want pets to fuss with but still crave some form of inhuman interaction
It’s best to have Robi start up or power down in a sitting position as getting him to stand before he’s switched on can be tricky. But if you hold him up by his scarf and power up, he’ll auto-balance himself to stand straight. Robi isn’t very pose-able, especially when he’s ‘on’, but if you have to pose him, be careful to not be too rough handling him because the short-wired servos will not take kindly to it.
After 3 minutes of no interaction, Robi will power down and sit down on his own. Robi can run for 20-30 mins on a charge – a good excuse for parents to tell their kids to stop playing with Robi. The charging dock comes with the last few issues of the magazine (an incentive for you to continue with your subscription perhaps?) and looks like a chair made just for Robi. To charge Robi, just sit him down right over charging point (which goes up his butt).
Hefty Price Tag
The first issue is available for a very affordable S$9.90 but every issue after is S$28.90 (with the exception of certain issues which cost even more due to the parts). At the end of the day, Robi will cost an estimated S$2,000.
Robi looks to be a fun project for families to work on together or for robot-fanatics. Its a great learning journey that is very informative about robot construction and interaction. He’s easy to assemble and supremely autonomous making the pay off worth its the 70-issue wait. He is likely to provide hours of fun (in 20 minute spurts) but will likely under-perform if there are multiple people (primarily children) giving him commands at one time. A big turn off is the overall cost for Robi but the “installment” style payment is helpful in making the subscription seem more appealing.
Robi will officially released on 5 July 2016 at any TOG (Toy or Game) outlets in Singapore.