The genius seems to be in its simplicity. You set your Bluetooth 4.0 enabled tablet on the stand, and your friend on the other side can control the movement of the Kubi with their smartphone using a grid app. Done. Easy. A demo video below the jump.
Later on, it will have motion tracking and facial recognition apps available for purchase.
The robot has been in development for eight months, and began as a mobile wheeled robot before it became a desktop stand. Developer Ilya Polyakov told us the reason is:
“We realized that the majority of the value of “presence” is in being able to look around and being seen, however, most of the cost is in the ability to drive around. Driving around is time consuming, technically risky and given current consumer grade technology, is not a good user experience. For the cost of the cheapest roaming tablet based robot you can get 10 Kubi! We feel that having the large screen of a tablet, with your live face on it, makes the conversation more intuitive and transparent.”
The need for a robot like Kubi was realized by Polyakov and his co-founder Marcus Rosenthal after they found how much of a hassle it was to keep in touch with their families while on the road:
“Dealing with webcams, propping up tablets on books and stationary stands was a major pain. Especially with my daughter, I would end up chasing her around the room with a laptop so grandma can keep bonding. For many people this may seem like a first world problem but for someone trying to bond and carry on a relationship, the Kubi makes a huge difference. We [Polyakov and Rosenthal] are engineers who saw and experienced a clear problem we had to solve. Being on the remote end and not being able to follow someone who walks out of frame or missing stuff right outside your field of view is extremely distancing.”
Though the Kubi was developed with family bonding in mind:
“We definitely intend for the Kubi used in the office, our vision is to have several of these at the meeting table and all over the building. We are starting with the consumer to take advantage of the BYOD (bring your own device) movement as robotic telepresence has been severely stifled by corporate red tape and pragmatism. We worked hard to get the device to be affordable by anyone who can afford a tablet.”
When asked if jerkiness or the loudness of the internal motors would be an issue, Polyakov said they addressed the motor issue by adjusting them to a point where the speed of the Kubi is not noticeable or dizzying to the remote user (the person controlling the tablet.) As for the noise level:
“We are designing the Kubi to be relatively quiet, my goal was lower than the sound of a buzzing cellphone in a pocked at a corporate meeting – It’s audible in total silence but not distracting. Because our servos operate at about 10% of their rated speed, the motor and gear RPM is quite low and therefore quiet.”
The engineering of the Kubi comes after seven years of collaboration between Ilya Polyakov and Marcus Rosenthal on prior projects.
They worked for those seven years at Artificial Muscle, an actuator developer that Rosenthal co-founded. The company sold actuators to the gaming, automotive and consumer electronics industries. Polyakov handled the tech aspect of the project, while Rosenthal was instrumental in business development and sales.
Both men had backgrounds in robotics prior to working at Artificial Muscle. Polyakov had a team on Comedy Central’s BattleBots (see here for video) and Rosenthal worked at SRI International, developing walking robots using electro-active polymer technology for DARPA.
After all that, it’s come to this. The developers are currently in negotiations with manufacturing firms, but it looks like the components will be manufactured off-shore and assembled in the United States. The funds that the Kubi guys get over Indiegogo will help get commercial production really going, and to finish developing their iOS app (Android version of one of their apps may be available by summer 2013.) It’s Flex Funding, so even if they don’t get to their $200,000 goal, they will still get the money put into the campaign so far (at time of publishing, they have raised $12,039.)
Since the Indiegogo campaign is Flex Funded, this will enable them to begin sending out their Hacker Edition Kubis immediately.
The Hacker Edition Kubi is an early prototype that will be compatible with the commercial Kubi. Polyakov explains:
“The API will be the same or compatible with the commercial version so developers can jump on board before the final product ships! The API is largely just the data protocol over Bluetooth 4.0 – it’s OS agnostic so an Android or Microsoft app is totally possible with the right partner!”
The estimated delivery date for the commercial Kubi is April – May 2013.