Joseph Schlesinger wants everyone to be able to build a robot. What's stopping all of us? Laziness? Maybe, but it could also be the required grasp of basic engineering principles, not to mention the associated cost. With Hexy, a cheap, easy-to-build 'bot, Schlesinger hopes to offer a new starting point for budding hobbyists.
We spoke Schlesinger to learn how he wants to serve up a robot cheap and easy enough that it could find itself on anyone's workbench.
So, let's say you want to build a robot and you have zero experience. Typically, you'd want to get yourself a beginner's level kit. The $36 Photopopper is a popular point of entry: you'll gain some basic understanding of how robots work as well as how to solder, which is a necessary skill for any would-be roboticist. That said, once your done building the Photopopper, you're also done learning with it.
With Hexy, the initial focus isn't on engineering. There's no soldering here — Hexy uses only two different length screws of the same fit — and all of the electronic components are ready to plug in. If you can build a Lego set or piece of Ikea furniture, you're ready to tackle Hexy. The 'bot is even billed as being able to "dance immediately" thanks to a suite of pre-programmed movements. In other words, once you build Hexy you're ready to play with it.
That's great, but all you've really built yourself a fancy remote-controlled hexapod, not a robot hexapod. Where's the 'bot?
"Cheap robots for everyone!"
"I strongly believe robotics is the future of the world," Schlesinger told us in an email exchange. "I want to do what I can to bring it to as many people as possible."
With that in mind, Hexy is a tidy $200. For that you get all the parts, electronics and screws — even the screwdriver to make it all happen. You don't need to reach anywhere else to build Hexy; it's all included. Hexy also comes with a rarity for hexapod kits, let alone a cheap one: a head, and one with an ultrasonic sensor included. As Schlesinger says on his Kickstarter: "Cheap robots for everyone!"
The act of putting the kit together won't teach you much about robotics, but what you end up with is a platform to start learning on: one with six legs, 20 articulating servos and the ability to gauge distance, thanks to that ultrasonic sensor.
"The robot is capable of being operated without any programming or soldering experience," Schlesinger said. "The problem with overly-simple robots is that they just become an lesson in how to assemble a kit. With [Hexy], sure you learn to assemble the robot, but you also get to do the movement planning, get feedback from sensors, and do real programming with it."
A Foundation To Build On
Sometimes you buy a kit and you get a bag of parts and bolts. Sometimes you buy one and it comes with gorgeously illustrated instructions. With Hexy, you'll get a bevy of tutorials, and "by the end you'll be able to manipulate individual servos on demand, and do whatever movements you can think of." Hexy wants to teach you how to fish — or, rather, wants to provide a platform for you to teach it to.
"This is a low-cost platform from which to expand." Schlesinger continued. "You can do some pretty advanced kinematics with Hexy and build a fair amount of programming knowledge with just the base kit, but it doesn't have to stop with the included hardware I include plenty of extra mounting points and screws throughout the chassis."
Want to add more sensors to Hexy's head? Sure, go nuts. Mount some drum sticks onto Hexy and teach it to tap out a tune, even. The one thing Hexy can't do for you is be as tough as we usually expect robots to be.
"The robot is fairly sturdy, and easily fixable if it does break," Schlesinger said. "As long as you're not dropping it off a table, and you're following the instructions, you should be just fine. I'm currently putting it through some final major stress tests to make sure it'll preform in the wild like it does on my own bench."
Hexy is not a toy, and if the unfortunate does ever happen, Schlesinger told us that parts can be bought directly from him or — since every buyer gets the Hexy's full schematic — hobbyists can buy directly from machine fabricators, such as made-to-mail service Ponoko.
"Will it be as tough as a $1,500 machined aluminum hexapod with giant metal gear servos? No," Schlesinger said. "This is Ikea for robotics: low-cost, functional, simple to build."
Where To Find Hexy
Schlesinger is looking to fund his robo-evangelizing on Kickstarter, where he has already met his initial goal. If he gets more funding, he has some additional features he'd like to make happen, such as a graphical user interface that would make programming Hexy even easier.