Robots are vacuuming our floors, entertaining our pets or helping out around the house in a whole host of other ways. But most of the time they aren't particularly customizable – whatever tasks they were built for are usually the be all end all. Now robotics startup Ohbot has unveiled its newest creation Picoh, a blank slate of a robot that can be programmed to do basically whatever you want it to do.
Standing 4 in (10 cm) tall, Picoh looks like a disembodied head and shoulders. On the front of that rounded rectangular head is a face in the form of a programmable LED display, made up of 144 pixels in a 16 x 9 grid. His little nose is a touch sensor, his mouth is two motorized lips and his brain is an Arduino board that communicates with a computer, with extra smarts piped in from the cloud. It's all capped off with flashing lights in his shoulders and a speaker.
Ohbot basically just lays out all of those functions as a toolset for tinkerers. Picoh doesn't do much out of the box, but those inputs and outputs can be programmed through either the Ohbot app, Python or Scratch 3 languages. To make him even smarter, Picoh can also be connected to devices like webcams and cloud-based services like machine learning algorithms.
With all that at your disposal, Picoh could be anything from a fancy lamp to a full Alexa-style assistant that responds to custom voice commands with custom responses. In the team's examples, Picoh can greet a person by name when he recognizes their face, and move his head to follow them around the room. He can recite the time or date on demand, or fetch info from Wikipedia or local weather services. He can lip sync along with songs or podcasts, or dance to music.
Rudimentary programmability has been seen in consumer robots from companies like LG or Anki, but none seem as versatile as Picoh. That said, he might be too much of a blank slate for some users, especially those without any prior knowledge of or interest in learning to code. He might be better off as a toy for more experienced tinkerers, but Ohbot says Picoh was designed to help people become more well-versed in how their everyday gadgets work.
The other disadvantage is that Picoh seems to need to be constantly connected to a computer to do his thinking for him. On the other hand, it's also a fair bit cheaper than other similar robots like the Misty II, so you might be able to save some money if you're willing and able to do the hard work yourself.
Ohbot is funding Picoh through Kickstarter, where the campaign has so far raised almost £7,000 (US$9,130) of its £30,000 ($39,000) goal, with 46 days remaining. Super Early Bird pledges start at £77 ($100) for one robot, before the price goes up to £88 ($115) for Early Birds or £99 ($130) for other backers. If all goes to plan, Picoh should be shipping in May for Super Early Birds, while other backers will have to wait until June.
Check out Picoh in action in the video below.
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