Toy robots are pretty commonplace these days, whether they're playing games, teaching kids to code or being our best buds. Plenty of those are modular, too, like the EZ-Robot line or Wunderkind sets, but with its spherical "cells" the CellRobot from KEYi Tech looks more versatile than most, coming together as everything from an RC racer or home security guard, to a smart camera stand or mini robo-bartender.
The basic non-functional cell modules have eight joint faces with which they can connect to other cells, opening up an impressive range of possible body shapes and forms. They're also split into two hemispheres that gives them 360-degree rotation, meaning that robot constructions can be programmed to move in complex and precise ways.
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No matter what you decide to build, the heart of all CellRobot designs will be, well, the Heart. Supplying power to the rest of the robot, the Heart cell connects to phones and tablets via Bluetooth, and relays the instructions input through a companion app (iOS and Android) to the rest of the robot. Around its surface lie eight joint connectors, where other cells snap on with a twisting action.
Functional cells include the Vision cell, which serves as the robot's eyes thanks to a wide-angle lens camera that shoots 640 x 480-pixel pictures or video at 30 fps, transmitting it to the connected smart device. There's also the Mount cell, which can clamp onto a desk or object, either to hold the robot in place or let it grasp and use objects. The Wheels cells, obviously, gives the CellRobot some much needed mobility at speeds of up to 5 in/s (12.7 cm/s), connecting with a hinge that grants three degrees of freedom.
There is plenty of freedom when it comes to combining all these pieces into a functioning whole. A Heart can run up to 20 modules, and a library of shapes in the app provides ideas for putting them together via detailed tutorials. For the more advanced and adventurous there's Custom mode, which lets users set parameters for each individual cell, or gently twist them into shape manually. From there, the design can be saved in the app to call back on later, or shared online.
The current cell options don't sound like the final lineup, either. The company plans to release its open-source hardware and software API, and judging by the promo videos and images, suction cups, more articulated claws and the like could be on the way.
Perhaps the main downside, though, is that taking full advantage of the CellRobot's seemingly endless possibilities will be a pricey investment. The lowest pledge level on the Kickstarter campaign will set you back US$155 for the Basic Package, which only includes the Heart, one cell, two wheels and the charger. Not much room to move with that. Higher tiers add more cells, more wheels and the camera and mount, but the complete package will leave a $625 hole in your wallet. If all goes to plan, the CellRobot will ship as early as December.
It is worth mentioning that this is KEYi Tech's second bite at the crowdfunding cherry with the CellRobot. The company canceled the original campaign in December, 2015 when it became obvious the $75,000 funding goal wouldn't be reached. However, the team fully refunded backers and kept them in the loop regarding their continued attempts to make the CellRobot a reality. That has now resulted in this latest campaign, which is aiming to raise $50,000 over the next 30 days.
You can check out a few of the possible CellRobot designs in the video below.
Source: KEYi Tech