Robotics

bots_alive adds AI and augmented reality to basic toy robots

bots_alive adds AI and augment...
The bots_alive kit lends an air of AI and augmented reality to a basic Hexbug Spider robot
The bots_alive kit lends an air of AI and augmented reality to a basic Hexbug Spider robot
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Users can move blocks around whenever they like and the bots_alive robot will respond in real time
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Users can move blocks around whenever they like and the bots_alive robot will respond in real time
Up to two robots can be controlled with one bots_alive kit at the same time
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Up to two robots can be controlled with one bots_alive kit at the same time
The bots_alive kit is hitting Kickstarter, where a pledge of US$35 gets a basic kit without a Hexbug Spider, or $60 gets the full package
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The bots_alive kit is hitting Kickstarter, where a pledge of US$35 gets a basic kit without a Hexbug Spider, or $60 gets the full package
The bots_alive kit lends an air of AI and augmented reality to a basic Hexbug Spider robot
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The bots_alive kit lends an air of AI and augmented reality to a basic Hexbug Spider robot
Mazes can be built out of the vision blocks, for the bots_alive robot to navigate
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Mazes can be built out of the vision blocks, for the bots_alive robot to navigate
The basic bots_alive kit includes two Hexbug Spider decals, an IR blaster, one blue vision block and four red ones
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The basic bots_alive kit includes two Hexbug Spider decals, an IR blaster, one blue vision block and four red ones
The bots_alive AI system was designed in the MIT Media Lab to create robots that act and feel more lifelike and natural
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The bots_alive AI system was designed in the MIT Media Lab to create robots that act and feel more lifelike and natural
The bots_alive world is built out of vision blocks: the robot will seek out the blue block and avoid the red ones
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The bots_alive world is built out of vision blocks: the robot will seek out the blue block and avoid the red ones
A decal placed on top of the Hexbug Spider allows the bots_alive system to track the robot
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A decal placed on top of the Hexbug Spider allows the bots_alive system to track the robot
The bots_alive system works through a smartphone app
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The bots_alive system works through a smartphone app

With so many toy robot kits pouring out now, kids of the near future might not believe us when we tell them that toys haven't always moved and "thought" for themselves. A new kit called bots_alive, which adds AI and augmented reality elements to an existing Hexbug Spider, is now crawling out of the toy box and onto Kickstarter.

Teaching kids to program seems to be a common goal of toy robots: Each of the Fisher Price Code-a-Pillar's segments are individual commands, and Photon uses his backstory to keep kids motivated to learn. Others, like Cozmo and Sphero's BB-8, are more focused on fun.

And then there's the Hexbug. These relatively cheap robo-bugs are normally remote-controlled, but the bots_alive kit is designed to give them a life of their own. The brains come from an artificial intelligence technique born in the MIT Media Lab, which is goal-oriented but aims to add a more natural layer of thinking to them: these robots will make mistakes and learn from them, and hesitate while they ponder what to do next.

Up to two robots can be controlled with one bots_alive kit at the same time
Up to two robots can be controlled with one bots_alive kit at the same time

"The bots_alive kit makes an autonomous robot creature out of a popular remote control toy," says Brad Knox, founder and CEO of bots_alive. "Our vision is to create artificially-intelligent robot creatures that feel organic and alive. By packaging our cutting-edge technology into an affordable kit, we're excited to bring more organic, lifelike robot characters into the hands of enthusiasts around the world."

To give the normally-brainless Hexbugs their newfound smarts, the bots_alive kit hijacks the infrared input they normally receive from a remote control. Commands are instead sent through an infrared blaster hooked into a smartphone, where an app does all the thinking. The result is a robot that's still basically being remote controlled, with the control outsourced to the AI.

That AI decides what to do based on what's in the world around the robot, and it "sees" that world through the IR blaster. Sticking an included decal on top of the Hexbug Spider allows the system to recognize and track the robot, and the same thing goes for a set of "vision blocks" that users can stack around it. The robot will, for example, seek out the blue block, while avoiding the red blocks, allowing you to create mazes and barricades for the spider to navigate, and change them up to help or hinder the Hexbug.

Mazes can be built out of the vision blocks, for the bots_alive robot to navigate
Mazes can be built out of the vision blocks, for the bots_alive robot to navigate

Each kit can support up to two robots at the same time, allowing you to race them to the goal or see if they solve the problem differently – after all, the developers say that the robots will learn and develop their own personalities over time.

A Kickstarter campaign is kicking off today to seek funding for bots_alive. Pledges start at US$35 for the basic kit, which includes the decal, IR blaster, the iOS or Android app and five vision blocks – one blue and four red. If you don't already have a Hexbug Spider, the Complete Kit tier throws one in, plus the basic kit, for $60, and additional vision blocks will be available for $15. The campaign is shooting for $15,000 and if all goes to plan, the company expects to ship the kits in September.

The robots can be seen in action in the video below.

Source: bots_alive

bots_alive robot creatures - teaser

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