Skip to main content

Dash Robotics' Bio-Inspired Bugs


Photograph copyright © 2015 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

A couple of weeks ago, our family was lucky enough to have a tour of Dash Robotics' facility in Sunnyvale, California, where Nick Kohut and his partners have a young startup designing and manufacturing remarkable little robot bugs that you can control with your smartphone or tablet. 

My son, Hudson, and I had first seen these at a tech convention in San Francisco organized by getgeeked and SVEntrepreneurs. We had been impressed by both the robots' speed and agility - as well as by the fact that you can build the robot's "skin" from a single sheet of plastic, and swap it out later if you want to change the robot's color or design. 


Photograph copyright © 2015 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

Nick Kohut, cofounder of Dash Robotics. Photograph copyright © 2015 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

Nick, who showed us around the Dash facility himself, met his partners, Andrew Gillies and Paul Birkmeyer, when they were all doctoral students at Berkeley. 

They were fascinated by the fields of biomimetics and bio-inspired engineering, and in particular by the highly efficient way that insects move. 

Insects, of course, have had hundreds of millions of years to get it right (the oldest definitive insect fossil dates back around 400 million years), while robots are still learning to walk and fly.

Dash Robotics' little robobugs are controlled by two tiny motors and travel at surprising speed, moving particularly well over gravel or other surfaces that give them traction.  


Photograph copyright © 2015 Alexander Chow-Stuart.
Photograph copyright © 2015 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

The circuit board that controls the robot bugs' movements, via a bluetooth connection with your mobile device, was originally designed using an Arduino board, but is now custom-made in China. 

Likewise the prototype skins were originally made from sheets of cardboard, but are now plastic, which is more durable and offers remarkable resilience to being dropped, even from a considerable height. 


Photograph copyright © 2015 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

Dash Robotics quickly secured early funding, including from private Chinese-American investor Elizabeth Xu, CTO of BMC Software, who was touring the facility with her family when we were there. 

The robobugs will be coming to market this October/November as toys, sold through Amazon and Dash itself at a very reasonable $49. Nick sees possible alternate uses in the future in search and rescue, where the fast-moving bugs could explore areas other technology couldn't reach. 

The toys are fun and educational, and require some simple self-assembly, constructing the origami-style body of the bug from the single sheet. 

When offered as part of a crowdfunding program early on, 1,000 bugs were sold in 12 days, so the prospects for the holiday season look very good. 

And they're certainly inspiring. Our own ten year old son Hudson quickly built an object-sensing robot (below) from Lego Mindstorms after touring the Dash Robotics facility. He was also fascinated to learn that an Arduino board could be used for a commercial prototype. 


Hudson's Lego Mindstorms object-sensing robot. Photograph copyright © 2015 Alexander Chow-Stuart.

If you're interested to learn more about the field of biomimetics that Dash Robotics is exploring, this article from the  Los Angeles Times makes fascinating reading. 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The High Tower Apartments and The Long Goodbye

This beautiful apartment complex in Los Angeles is called the Hightower or High Tower Complex (the High Tower name refers to the central elevator, I believe), and was designed in 1935-1936 by architect Carl Kay - and made famous in 1973 by my favorite film, Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (see Why I Love Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye).


Although Altman used the building as Philip Marlowe's apartment in his somewhat post-modern Long Goodbye (the film plays with references to Old Hollywood and opens and closes with the song, Hooray For Hollywood), the building has another direct connection to Raymond Chandler.


It was apparently the inspiration for Chandler in his book, The High Window (the first Chandler novel I ever read), in which Chandler describes the residence of Philip Marlowe as being on the cliffs above High Tower Drive in a building with a fancy elevator tower. (Thanks to the Society of Architectural Historians Southern California Chapter webpage for that.) 


This ph…

Andrew Hale and Sade

On Thursday evening, we saw our longtime friend Andrew Hale perform with Sade at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, in one of the most beautifully conceived and produced concert performances I have ever seen.

Sade is a rare musician, in that she and the band only write, record and tour every eight to ten years, so that in a very real sense you can measure your life by her.

The band's music is always fresh and always newly conceived - for their previous album, Lovers Rock, they stripped everything down musically to a minimalist sound and banished the saxophone that had been so much a part of Sade's heavily soul- and jazz-influenced style.


The latest album, Soldier of Love, released in 2010, is one of the most tender, moving collections of songs yet, from the astonishingly beautiful Morning Bird, which features exquisite keyboards from Andrew, to the soulful, retro, return-of-the-sax melodies of In Another Time, and the deeply touching, reggae-influenced charm of Babyfather - a partic…

From Dawn to Sunset on the Beach - Pelicans, Whales and Memories of my Father

This post about my father and the ocean is very important to me right now. It was written when we first moved to Santa Cruz, which we insisted on calling Aldabra because it is so magical...
From Dawn to Sunset on the Beach - Pelicans, Whales and Memories of my Father
Living and writing by the ocean - in a spot we like to call Aldabra (which in reality is a remote and very beautiful atoll in the Indian Ocean) - the beach figures large in my thoughts and daily routine.

Usually I wake early, and on occasion I walk at dawn through the waves, past the occasional fisherperson, enjoying the darkness slowly transforming into light, the spray of the breakers, the pull of the tide around my feet, the constant barking of the sea lions, the damp of the ocean mist - and the sight of the sun breaking over the horizon to the east.






Recently, a few days before what would have been his birthday, I thought of my father as I trod the beach at dawn. He came from a tiny Scottish fishing village, Rosehearty, se…