The Crafty Robot

The Crafty Robot is an affordable and accessible hackable moving toy robot. It is battery-free, charging from USB in 30 seconds, and runs around, perfect for races or sumo battles. The robot is powered by an invention called a Fizzbit. When you are bored with your robot you can remove the Fizzbit and use it to create your own robot out of almost anything. Production of Crafty Robots happens here in the UK, in Nottingham and Cardiff, and was facilitated by a Kickstarer campaign in autumn 2015 which attracted over 1,600 backers and was fulfilled on time.

Robots start at £8 and you can buy them over on the Crafty Robot Website.

Making makers

As a child I was always making things. I was really lucky to be set on this path by my dad (who has always worked in manufacturing). It seemed whenever we had time together we would be building sailing boats out of plastic bottles or aeroplanes from cereal boxes and and packing foam. The people I’ve met in design and engineering share the same stories and, those that have them, say they do this with their kids – building their own toys out of lollipop sticks or parts salvaged from broken electronics.

Whether you call it engineering or design or (more recently) ‘building a startup’  – it is all ‘making’ -shaping matter and technology to your own ends; learning through experimentation and iteration.

At the same time as the word ‘maker’ is gaining cultural resonance it fees like the supply of actual makers – people who fundamentally understand the process – has never been more diminished. If we are going to rely only on inheritance to supply these skills we will be in real trouble.

I am not the first designer to realise this and there are a host of products available aimed at turning children into ‘makers’. None of them have succeeded in connecting with children who’s parents are not already deeply interested in technology. There are two major reasons for this:

1. Expense – With kits starting at £50 and going up to £150 or even £250 these products are only accessible to children with wealthy parents or at exceptionally well funded schools.

2. High entry point – You shouldn’t need to master a computer program or soldering iron to start making creatively with technology. By requiring this, these products discourage less technically confident parents from adopting them.

With The Crafty Robot I am trying to dramatically lower the entry point for children to become makers. Robot kits start at £8 and once you have a Fizzbit you can start experimenting and creating your own robots out of packaging, household items, card or even with more sophisticated tools and processes like 3D printers. I’m working on more capable robot designs, that allow Crafty Robot users to move up the maker food chain, but started with the simplest, cheapest, most accessible one.

Crafty Robots are:

Re-usable – You can re-use the functional parts of your robot to make many more moving toys of your own invention, or with templates downloaded from the website.
Re-chargeable – You will never need to buy batteries. Fun will not stop (for long) because batteries are flat.
Legible – You can see the individual parts so you can understand how they work.
Creative – You get a robot but that’s only the start. You get the capability to create your own robots quickly and easily (but not so easily that you won’t learn anything).

A product for the future

As well as a tool to make learning the process of using experimentation and iteration to shape technology to your own ends, I see The Crafty Robot as and embodiment of what I hope will be the future of physical products.

The desire for novelty will never go away so we have to work out a way of satisfying it at a much lower cost to the planet. A good way of doing this with electronic products is to make their functional core (which contains most of the resources required to make them) durable and seperate it from the rest of the product which can then be designed to have a much shorter lifespan.

Attempts to apply this to electronic products are well known as concepts such as Phone Blocks but none of these have yet made it as far as actual consumers.

The Crafty Robot is a much simpler product but it does actually deliver on this promise. You can reinvent your robot as many times as you like and all you are throwing away (and hopefully recycling) is some paper, or maybe some packaging you were going to throw away anyway. Also unlike other toys, you aren’t throwing away batteries, or using rechargeable LiPo ones that have a huge negative environmental impact in manufacture.

Getting Crafty

Running and fulfilling the Kickstarter campaign (on top of my usual consultancy work, and whilst helping with a consultation for the Department for Transport) was an incredible effort but massively fulfilling. Seeing posts on social media of people receiving their robots and enjoying them over Christmas was one of the highlights of my career.

Subsequently running workshops at places like the Cheltenham Science Festival and EMF Camp and seeing the incredible creativity participants brought to their robots has been hugely inspiring. I’m looking forward to seeing what people make as more Crafty Robots and Fizzbits make it out into the world.