Open-Source “21st Century Robot” Announced
Brian David Johnson, a futurist at Intel, has announced an open-source humanoid robot project. The prototype (currently just a nonfunctional shell) is named “Jimmy,” but Johnson is open-sourcing all design files, and encouraging everyone to customize and tweak their own robot. The core parts (electronics and servos, we presume) will be available as a kit, with the rest designed for printing on any home 3D printer. Johnson is striving for a kit cost under $1000, and possibly even under $500.
Instructions for building the robot, along with inspirational science fiction stories, will be available in a book due out next summer called “21st Century Robot.” An early edition of this book has already been released this week at the Maker Faire. The final version of the book, which will include build instructions, is expected out in May 2014. This will be based on a reference design, currently being worked on by Dave Barrett at Olin College, which is expected to be complete this November.
Johnson’s approach turns the usual robot design process on its head. Usually, robot builders start with the technology and functional goals they have, and derive a design able to achieve those goals. The appearance of the robot is ultimately determined by its function, apart from decorative flourishes at the end. This project instead started with what they wanted the robot to look like, with little weight given to how it would work. The result is a very unusual robot that will be a challenge to make functional: it has improbably tiny knee and elbow joints, widely-spaced legs, no obvious way to pivot the hips or ankles, and a heavy-looking head (and hands) that will present balance challenges and require powerful servos.
Yet these guys are no amateurs. Dave Barrett, mechanical engineer and robotics professor, has served as VP of engineering at iRobot, and as a director at Walt Disney Imagineering. He’ll find a way to make it work, possibly even at the target price. If the design ends up needing a few tweaks in the process, that’s OK — Johnson embraces the notion of iterative design, with each attempt informing the next.
More details will be made available at robots21.com as the project develops.