The Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories website introduced the Bristlebot to the world in December 2007. We were excited about these little robots, made from toothbrush heads with directional bristles, cellphone-vibrator motors and small batteries. We weren't the only ones: In ensuing months, fans watched the Bristlebot YouTube video more than two million times and created homage Bristlebots made from computer chips and double-wide BristleBots that paint.
Still, we were surprised to see a new Klutz book called Invasion of the Bristlebots at the New York Toy Fair this week. While Klutz is known for helping kids make things themselves, the Bristlebots that come with the book are almost completely assembled already — the head of the toothbrush is cut off, and the motor-battery combo is already put together and enclosed in plastic. What happened to the part about teaching kids to make toys themselves?
On one hand, it seems that Klutz has come up with some cool kid's activities for Bristlebots, and that's a good thing. On the other, it seems the company didn't bother to contact Bristlebot's inventor before monetizing it. When we e-mailed Windell H. Oskay, the Evil Mad Scientist behind the original Bristlebot to ask about his involvement with the book, he was a bit peeved: "This is the first that I've heard of it. Frankly, I am a bit offended. Klutz makes some nice things, and I'm surprised that they wouldn't have contacted us, asked permission, or at least given us credit. (Locomotion by ratcheting bristles isn't remotely new — it occurs in nature — but the name 'Bristlebot' is surely ours, and I don't know of any prior implementation with a toothbrush.)" Yikes.
In its PR materials, Klutz writes that Bristlebots have "more zip, wilder action, and a control that lets you adjust a Bot's behavior." They sound neat. No mention, however, of the awesome techie project blog (check out their toaster!) that made it all possible.