CellRobot is one of many modular robots announced in the last 12 months.

The principle is simple: use the blocks or modules to create any type of robot you like, whether you’re looking to make something functional, entertaining or a little bit of both.

Each cell has a 360 degree angle sensor, servo motor, and microcontroller so can work independently to its neighbour.

The blocks click together like Lego and can then be programmed using CellRobot’s own platform, making it super-simple for both kids and adults to get started.

We spoke to Jay Yang, founder and CEO of KEYi Technology, the company behind CellRobot to find out where the modular robot is going and what personal robots will mean for us in the next five years.

Where did the inspiration for CellRobot come from?

Before we started working on CellRobot, we had this dream of a robot that could change shape and adapt to its environment; roll under debris to enter a collapsed building, then climb with four legs onto obstacles or ramp like a snake to explore passages hard to access.

Not just a Transformer, but a real shape-shifter. Essentially we desired to create an entertaining as well as educational tool, serving as building blocks that give a first glimpse into the future of modular robotics.

Why did you decide to go down the modular route?

We have studied modular robotics for four years. At the beginning, we did our research in the lab of our university and made a really powerful and intelligent prototype.

It was equipped with many sensors so that it could do self-reconfiguration, in other words, it was able to change shapes by itself, but that cost too much.

During the process of research, we noticed that since modular robots could be reconfigured into millions of different robots, it enabled people to develop their imagination.

If we can make it affordable to common families, modular robots would definitely become an educational robot product full of imagination. Meanwhile, if more people begin to use modular robots, more and more different configurations applications will come out, which will help with the development of modular robotics.

We believe in the bright future of modular robots and we will keep moving forward in the process of developing consumer modular robots.

What stage are you at with its production?

CellRobot is currently in production to be available for consumers in late Q2 of 2016. We have successfully created prototypes which were introduced at CES Las Vegas earlier this month and we will begin our crowdfunding campaign later this year.

Where do you think personal robots are heading?

CellRobot was created as an opportunity for everyone to have as many personal robots as they have the desire to create.

Depending on their imagination, users can essentially have a different robot each day.

We still have a way to go to bring personal robots to common family, but more and more people have begun to use intelligent products, including robot products in the home.

The market of personal robots will grow rapidly and we believe CellRobot will be one of the important parts.

Which countries and companies are pushing the idea of personal robots forward?

The US has an advantage in the development of consumer robots, but many Chinese companies and colleges have made some innovations in this field. They are all pushing the idea of personal robots forward.

My inspiration came from different aspects, from the modular robot in Transformers II to the Miro-Bot in Big Hero 6.

How will the personal robot industry evolve in the next five years?

I think in the next five years, most of the personal robots will be applied in the field of entertainment, in other words, there will be more intelligent toys. Many high-tech products begin with entertainment applications.

When they get enough users, they will develop further on other applications, meeting the needs of users by their technology. Therefore, I believe more personal robots will enter into the market as robotic toys and then develop more practical applications in the next five years.

What do you think are the key barriers to robots becoming mainstream?

In the field of consumer electronics, robots will develop really fast in the near future. But the key barriers include:

  • Sensors – robots need sensors to get data and realise intelligent analysis. However, most of the sensors are really expensive so we need more consumer products in tho field of sensors to lower the cost. Also new technology is needed, for example, smartphones promote the development of imaging sensors.
  • Actuator – compact transmission has always been the key barrier of robot technology. But this core tech needs to develop really fast.
  • Intelligence – actually, there are a lot of intelligent robots in development but they are all based on the barriers I talked above. If we can overcome the first two barriers, more intelligent robots will become realisable.