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The (toy) robot revolution is here, thanks to Modular Robotics

KANSAS CITY—Eric Schweikardt got his Ph.D from Carnegie Melon University in the computational design lab, then founded Modular Robotics to help children learn about robots, patterns and other computational projects.

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“The best things to make robots out of are thousands of other tiny robots.”

Eric Schweikardt got his Ph.D from Carnegie Melon University in the computational design lab, then founded Modular Robotics to help children learn about robots, patterns and other computational projects. Now he has moved into the consumer robotics space with two products, Cubelets and Moss. Unlike other consumer robot systems, these are made with the care and complexity that will actually help children learn and become interested in programming. They are the future of programming, so why aren’t we starting them before they enter school?

With Modular Robotics Eric tried to answer this. During his speech he identified three problems, which he’s trying to solve by building these robots:

Problem 1: Computational Thinking

One of the biggest problems he saw was that kids weren’t learning about networking, feedback and other things you have to be a programmer until some of them entered school.

He tried to solve this with Cubelets, which are tiny stackable robots without any wires. They are easily stackable and you can literally just stack them and go.

Eric said, “A robot is any device that sense, thinks or acts.” Which caused Modular Robotics to divide the Cubelets into those three categories.

Cubelets also are the first commercial robot system that is made of tiny, modular robots.

Problem 2: Complexity

After Cubelets, the team at Modular Robitics wanted to make a more complex robot to teach complex skills. This is where Moss comes in.

Moss is like Cubelets but made up of modules that are smaller and connected with steel spheres. The spheres make it easier to shift and open up the door to more complex robot designs.
At its core it’s a robot construction kit and makes it easy for “non-geeky white boys” to tinker with robots. But Eric stressed that he wants everyone interested in robotics and hopes Moss will realize that goal.

No programming knowledge is needed, but with Moss you can build programs if you want to in its dedicated kit.

Eric believes if we give kids tools to help them build things to understand what happens behind the scenes it will lead them to not attribute it to magic or the unknown.

Problem 3: Manufacturing

Right now nothing like this is made in the U.S. and like usual, Modular Robotics wanted to change that. Everyone they talked to believed this concept was asinine. Most of the other companies were building in China but it was not right for them. One of the big things they saw was that the best companies had a completely automated manufacturing process.

At first they used “elves” to build them in their factory in Boulder, Co., but they still wanted to bring their costs down. This is where FARKUS, a robotic assembly line that makes robots, comes in.

He unveiled the company’s own in-house, open-sourced system during his talk, showcasing the possibilities that come when you look at every opportunity for efficiency.

Eric said he always hear that “robots are going to take our jobs.” Although he believes, “I don’t think we need more jobs, I think we need more prosperity. We don’t need to create terrible jobs.”

He thinks there’s a long-term play for prosperity, and robots may be just one piece of that.


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