A new era of innovation

I love innovation.

I just love to see ideas turn into reality. I love this concept that if a group of people really work on a problem, they can sometimes solve it.

I also love robots. I don’t know why exactly, I just think they are so cool.

I remember watching the Jetsons with my sisters on a small black and white TV in the upstairs of our 100 year old Vermont home and just feeling such wonder. Robots that cleaned and cooked…flying cars. It all seemed so exciting.

Fast forward many years. The flying cars are here. Robots that clean and cook are here. It’s not exactly like the show but close. And moving quickly. Very quickly. Today a middle schooler can just as easily innovate as someone with 20 years of experience. And this is both an opportunity and a challenge.

My vision for founding ROBAUTO was to create a framework for people to innovate in robotics. The hope was that through this framework viable products would begin to emerge. And that we would be able to ‘automate’ the process of innovation to a degree. And it just may be working…

Meet Baby Bibli

Yesterday my friends and colleagues Wei Miao and Qi Liu came over to my apartment. They plopped what looked like a bunch of circuit boards and duct taped batteries onto my counter. They fired up the power and suddenly everything started to move and come alive. Beeps and jokes and roaming. It was fun.

Robots everywhere. Baby BiBli robots.

I could go into all the details of how after more than 2 years of working I was the proud guardian of a little family of semi-intelligent robots. I could talk about the countless hours, burned-out-boards and failed attempts. I could go into the hundreds of students, health care professionals and educators who have sat with us and helped us to design and build.  Instead if you are interested you can watch the TEDx talk here.

For the first time in my professional career, this wasn’t a product that a single team or person had designed and built. This wasn’t an app or a website or a software algorithm that we were hoping would catch on after an expensive launch.
Above: Robot emotions as designed by a 7th grader on the Autism Spectrum. 

This was a family of robots. And I say family because that is what they are. And they had been 100% crowdsourced. Designed by students, engineered by professionals and delivered via schools and public libraries. Where competitors have spent hundreds of millions of dollars, we have spent less than $50,000. And in many cases we’re winning sales against these robotic giants.

The BiBlis converse with each other and with their owners. They invoke emotion and demand attention and respect. Yet, they are not much more complex than your laptop or iPhone. And they are cheap. Like… $99 cheap to a few fortunate pilot customers.

You’ll probably be hearing a lot about the BiBli family in 2016 and that has nothing to do with me. Honestly I have really done very little. Sure I spent many hours coding and configuring and testing the first version. Yes, I paid for parts and pieces and eyeballs and robot sweaters. But the BiBlis are not my idea.

They are OUR idea. 

The BiBlis are the product of our collective imagination. As it turns out we wanted a robot that was human but not too human. We wanted something that educated us and entertained us but it didn’t have to be too complex. We wanted something that was smart and had the ability to get smarter so that we as people could have access to A.I. and machine learning.

And we didn’t have much money to spend on a new robot for our kids.

This year the BiBlis will find themselves in multiple schools and libraries and homes around the world. They will start to work together to try to solve complex issues like communication and education and autism. The kids themselves will program them via an easy-to-use drag and drop interface. Together we’ll create curriculums and therapies and every other kind of robotic innovation.

They are multiplying faster than I can even keep up with and it’s amazing.

Over the past 2 years I’ve learned a lot about healthcare and education and robots.

But helping to bring the Baby BiBlis into the world has also completely changed my perspective on innovation.

Here are 5 things I have learned about the new age of innovation:

1. Innovation needs to come from the customer. No longer can we expect to come up with an idea or run a focus group and then sit with our engineering team and hope to come up with a successful product. We need to invite our customers to become stakeholders and get their help to solve their own problems.

2. We need to prototype, test and iterate much much faster and without so much initial investment. In today’s connected world we can easily get real-time feedback on pricing, product and positioning and we no longer should be ‘betting the farm’ on any single technology or idea.

3. Engineering and Entrepreneurship need to merge. There is no future for a coder who can’t pitch or clearly explain their technology. And there is no place for an entrepreneur who can’t design or code. We need to stop focusing so much on STEM in schools and really inspire kids to truly innovate. Kids should be able to invent their way through college, not borrow their way through. Or maybe in some cases they should skip college all together.

4. When we as innovators see a good idea we need to support it. This helps to democratize innovation. Even if the product is all pieced together, difficult to scale or half-finished. If something is new and useful and impactful we need to rally behind it on social media.  For example when you give a few bucks to this project you are fueling a whole new era of robotics and innovation.  And you are creating jobs for talented high school kids who do all of the assembly.

Think like a robot

Robots are fun. They can be engaging. They can also be really helpful. One of the reasons is that as humans we tend to think of them differently. We know they are computers but in a way they are more than that. Introducing BiBli 0.2. Low-cost, intelligent and fun. And did I mention made by kids for kids!

Denver Comic Con Robotics and Social Media Internships

You could be asked to wear a robot costume and babysit R2D2 as part of this internship.

There are a few things to be excited about this spring.

The first is spring itself. Robots don’t like the snow!

The second is Denver Comic Con happening this May 23-25.

ROBAUTO will be working in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Education and the Longmont Public Library to exhibit a funny, 2-way communicating ‘selfie’ robot designed to entertain and amuse the Comic Con crowd. The robot is designed to help those with communication barriers to more easily interact – via a robot.

Warm weather, super heroes and robots. It’s going to be great.

But we’re most excited about is to announce two new internship opportunities.

Are you a hungry, self-motivated designer, engineer or social media guru? Then we invite you to read the job descriptions below and apply by March 15, 2015 by emailing a cover letter and resume in one PDF document to jhartman (at) robauto.co.

All positions are unpaid and will require approximately 10 hours per week through the end of May, with at least 1 full day expected during memorial day weekend while attending Denver Comic Con.

Each intern will be assigned a specific project and may be required to collaborate with other members of the project team in either Boulder or Longmont, Colorado.

The lucky candidates will have tons of fun and gain invaluable real-world experience while working with an award-winning team consisting of entrepreneurs, engineers and designers, librarians, students and educators along the front range of Colorado.

Robotic Engineer II

The ideal candidate would have at least 1-year of college experience towards a math or engineering related degree and some robotics development and design experience.

Specific responsibilities will include:

Creation of a 3D model and management of prototyping of eyes, head and a robot body.

  • Coding of several Linux and Arduino based robot control systems.
  • Contribution to the one-os operating system.
  • Creation of a web-based robot control dashboard.
  • Oversee product testing at Denver Comic Con 2015.

Social Media Manager I

As the social media manager you will be responsible for building a social media following around the “BiblioBot” robot leading up to and during Comic Con.  An ideal candidate should have at least 1-year of college experience in a business, communications, marketing or a related field.

Specific social media tasks will include:

  • Creation and growth of a social media brand around BiblioBot.
  • Scoping of a product feature which integrates Twitter’s API with the one-os robot operating system.
  • Coordination with the partners and the general Comic Con community leading up to and during the event during Memorial Day weekend.
  • General management of ROBAUTO’s blog, Facebook and Twitter profiles.
  • Creation of a social media marketing plan for use by multiple partners.

About the project:

ROBAUTO and the Longmont Public Library have partnered to create a user-generated robot designed to help with communication for those on the autism spectrum. The project was named the 2014 Colorado Library Project of the Year and the 2014 U.S. Global IP Champion.

Robotics innovation is everywhere

We’ve been working lately with the team at the Longmont (Colorado) Public Library to create an program that enables the local community to create new devices and robots for use in making the library more accessible.

It’s part of an overall project to make the library more open to individuals and their families on the autism spectrum. We’re helping to guide a project to create a robot that will reside in the library to assist patrons and we hope to create a sustainable model for community-driven robotics innovation in the process.

Why can’t a middle school student invent a new viable product? What about a parent of the student? Certainly the resources for desktop product development are readily available, and marketing can be as easy as a thoughtful Kickstarter video.

Innovation starts with an idea and in the case of robotics we’re now able to inexpensively create prototypes because of the influx in new low-cost hardware.

The expense in creating and test marketing a new product has gone down significantly and so the market will soon be flooded with an influx of new devices.

But what is missing is the the support and resources to bring these ideas to market. There are probably 100 weekend hardware developers (with prototypes) for every one that will have the ability to bring it to market.

The fact of the matter is that a creative engineer doesn’t always make the best entrepreneur. There is much more to innovation than just the technology.

ROBAUTO is hoping to lend our experience in commercial technology productization to design, build and test new innovations in electronics and robotics. We want to help make robots for the people – by the people.

Because in a connected, collaborative society with many challenges, we need to be looking for innovation everywhere. It’s not just happening in corporate labs and Universities.

The solutions to our most pressing problems (like healthcare and education for example) are likely to come from the collective and we’re excited to be a part of that transformation in innovation.

The robots are coming and innovation is happening everywhere.

ROBAUTO and the Longmont Public Library Partner as part of autism robotics initiative

Beginning June 27 ROBAUTO will be working with the Longmont Public Library in Longmont, Colorado to create a model for robotics innovation.
Beginning June 27 ROBAUTO will be working with the Longmont Public Library in Longmont, Colorado to create a model for robotics innovation.

The robots are coming to Longmont Public Library as part of a new program designed to open up access and teach robotics engineering skills to students and families within the local autism community.

The library will serve as a hub and teaching center and ultimately students will have have the opportunity to design and build a personalized  ONE robot for the library as part of a program that begins this summer.

The robot will be designed to help teach new visitors how to best take advantage of everything the library has to offer. In the process students who wish to participate may join the ONE Robotics Club and learn design, prototyping, engineering and testing skills using the ONE operating system.

The project is also designed to create a curriculum and community outreach model for use in schools and libraries around the country. It is made possible in part by the Library Services Technology Act  and the Friends of Longmont Library with support from the Autism Society of Colorado, The Autism Society of Boulder County, The TLC Learning Center and the Longmont Museum.

Those who wish to participate may attend an introductory meeting on Friday June 26 from 5:30 – 7:30 or contact Katherine Weadley or Elektra Greer at the library at  (303) 651-8470

ONE robot demo

Join us Tuesday March 4, 2014 at New Tech Boulder (6 PM Wolff Law Building CU Boulder) to learn about ONE, a crowdsourced robot for healthcare. A few scrapes and bruises after the initial autism pilots but loaded with new software, camera and sound system.

ONE Autism Robot IMG_1099 IMG_1100 IMG_1101 IMG_1102