University alumnus develops buildable toy robot for kids

By Lilly Mashayek

Buildable robots developed by a University graduate provide an interactive way for kids to learn hands-on programming skills.

University alumnus and CEO of Dash Robotics Nick Kohut co-founded the company in 2013 with two of his former University of California Berkeley labmates, Andrew Gillies and Paul Birkmeyer. They created a commercial robot that kids put together themselves, called Kamigami Robots.

“Kamigami are small legged robots that kids can build by hand, learn some basic programming on and play games with their friends and the robots through battle, or tag or building different behaviors,” Kohut said.

“The whole thing was sort of born out of a research project at UC Berkeley. We were developing robots for research purposes, and we would take them to outreach events and science camps,” said Gillies, who serves as COO. “People were really excited and wanted to buy them, and we saw an opportunity there to sort of develop the technology further and commercialize it.”

He said Birkmeyer was the “brainchild” of the robot design; a paper he previously published was about a robot similar to the design of the Kamigami Robot. Kohut said the team started transforming their ideas into a commercial product in 2013. The robots are constructed in a fashion similar to the way origami is made.

“They actually start as a flat sheet,” he said. “They’re built out of this material we invented that’s a plastic fabric, and they fold up, sort of like origami, from 2-D to 3-D … and it takes about 45 minutes.”

According to their website, the robots can run as fast as five feet per second. Gillies said there are two components to the robot — building it and playing with it.

“It’s a build-it-yourself robot, so first and foremost it’s about enjoying the experience of putting a robot together yourself,” he said.

Once the robots are built, the user can then connect the robot to their smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth.

There are three different robot characters that can be purchased, although they all have the same inner components.

“The main robot body, there’s one of those and then there are a few different character shells that pop on and pop off,” Gillies said. “So there are three characters but they all share the same internal chassis and electronics.”

Laura Briney, junior in Engineering, said she would have loved to have a toy like this when she was younger.

“I really love the idea of giving kids hands-on toys that make them think creatively,” she said. “I didn’t have toys like that when I was younger, and I wish I had because I think it really helps with problem-solving that we have to do in the future, no matter the profession we choose.”

Gillies said they provide the building blocks and then it’s up to the user to decide where to go from there.

“What we’re really trying to achieve is this idea of open-ended creative play, where there’s a lot of different things you can do with it,” he said. “The idea is that the users can then expand on that and create their own ways to play.”

Kamigami Robots had a four-week Kickstarter campaign in October and reached almost 700 backers who bought about 1,200 units.

Currently, Kamigami Robot Kits are available for pre-order for $59.99. The pre-orders are expected to ship April 2016.

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