With the UK’s technological future being threatened by skills gaps, specifically in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects and that’s precisely the reason so many companies are option to use robotics to teach children about coding.
Although Crafty Robot isn’t all about coding, it’s helping to educate children and adults like about how to create a functional object, concentrating more on the design and engineering skills needed to make things work.
The Crafty Robot starts off as a cardboard robot kit to which you attach a Fizzbit. You plug the Fizzbit into a USB port for 30 seconds unplug and the robot runs around. Once you have a Fizzbit, it can be reused in robots you make yourself, out of paper, with a 3D printer or with household items like food packaging, plastic cups or biscuits.
The company ran a Kickstarter campaign at the end of 2015 and manufactured and delivered 5,000 robots to people all around the world.
We spoke to designer and engineer Ross Atkin about why he decided to make a robot that can be a real shapeshifter – changing form to suit the needs of the user – and where he thinks the future of personal robotics lies.
Will there be a time when everyone has their own personal robot?
I don’t think we will get to a place where we have a strict one to one robot person relationship. There are already people who have several robots adapted to different tasks (vacuum cleaner, home security etc) and I think this trend will continue.
Some older and disabled people may end up with quite a large number of robots that help them in different ways. Plus we will probably end up working alongside robots in the workplace more and more. I think the robots are more likely to be tied to environments than individuals though.
If you do want your own robot to cherish, a Crafty Robot is a pretty cost effective way to get one, plus they are pretty cute.
Which countries and companies are pushing the idea of personal robots forward?
I’m most excited by the work on robots in the care environment. Looking after people is a really wicked problem for robots but the potential gain both economic and for individual’s independence is huge. It’s just a small step on the way but I quite like the PARO therapeutic robot. It doesn’t do anything that sophisticated but it is a very nicely resolved design and it seems to really make a difference for both the people who use it and the staff who support them.
Besides their utility I think robots can be a really effective way of engaging people and teaching them about technology, that’s why I created the Crafty Robot in the first place. Other educational robots I love are Dot and Dash and the original LEGO Mindstorms kit.
How will the personal robot industry evolve in the next five years?
I think in the domestic space we will see deeper integration between robots and the wider smart home. Sensor data will be shared and action coordinated between robots and static appliances. For people that need a bit of extra help we will see support robots available as genuine consumer products.
Some of these will probably be hybrids sometimes working autonomously but for challenging tasks being controlled humans (who may be in a different country). We will probably have got over the novelty of ‘domestic robots’ and won’t be spending thousands of dollars on robots just to take photos of ourselves.
What do you think are the key barriers to robots becoming mainstream?
I think understanding the domestic context is the greatest challenge for robots entering the mainstream consumer market. People’s homes, unlike factories, warehouses or even highways, are messy and unpredictable. Interacting with humans even messier and more complicated.
All of this makes the task of a domestic robot pretty challenging. It is likely that only with pretty effective AI will fully autonomous domestic robots prove genuinely useful.