October 01, 2013

Is Intel's Jimmy 3D Printed Robot the First Step to the Robot Apocalypse?


With the movie “Robopocalypse” coming out this year, I read the book, and I’m particularly nervous about any idea that might massively increase the number of robots in the world. So imagine my concern when Briand David Johnson told me of his Jimmy project to open source robots to kids and have them use 3D printers to create massive numbers of the things. Granted, it could drive unpatrolled interests in robotics and  be a cool project for classrooms and parent/kid teams, not to mention do wonderful things for the emerging 3D printer market, but thousands of little robots?!

It’s actually a very interesting project, though, so let me explain.


Image via Shutterstock

Getting Kids Interested in Technology

You’d think with tablets and smartphones on every kid’s short list of things they want for Christmas, we’d have not shortage of folks interested in electrical or software engineering. But we actually do, particularly in some of the more interesting areas like robotics. It is one thing to get folks interested in buying technology but quite another to get them interested in creating it, and it is that creation that assures continued advancement and promises that the U.S. stays at the center of the technology growth market.  

Intel has a number of initiatives tied to getting kids interested in technology. One is the Tomorrow Project, part of which is to get kids to imagine the future they would like to live in. But the more concrete program is the one they launched at the World Maker Fair and it starred Jimmy, the first 3D printed robot.  

The First Printed Robot

The underlying goal of this project is to both get kids interested in technology and to humanize robotics.   Basically to actively work to avoid the future “Robopocalypse” forecasts.   And to be clear, concerns about a hostile robotic future are well founded; there is even an active project at the Lifeboat Foundation called AIShield, designed to protect against a Terminator type event. There is a growing concern that with all of the focus on drones and military robotics we may be building a race-ending event if we don’t balance our need for robotic killing machines with a drive to humanize future robots.   I find it somewhat troubling that I started today reading a story about a metal melting laser rifle that only robots could use (and filed that under “things that could end badly”).  

What Brian and Intel have done is create the first free open source robot, which can be modified and printed on a 3D printer. Initial cost for the robot is around $1,000, but they’re shooting to bring the component cost down, closer to $500 before they send these things out in volume. I expect Intel will also donate a large number of kits to schools to jump start the program. 

But with these open source plans kids are encouraged to modify and share their experiences as they create robots unique to their personalities and which will evolve as the related interest in robotics evolves. Related apps can be downloaded as easily as you would download an app for your iPhone or other device and you can download a free book called 21st Century Robot here, which talks about the initiative and process.  

The book not only defines the process (this part is a quick read), but it also has some short stories that help you imagine the future world of robotics.

Wrapping Up: Personal Robots the New PC?

We’ve had an interesting evolution in the personal computer space and robots will be a future step, I’m just not yet sure it will be the next step. But to make this step, and survive it, we will need to think through how we are creating robots – particularly those that can cause harm.   With self-driving cars in approval cycles, we are close to having autonomy.  

Having more and more people focus on humanizing these robots will be a big step in assuring they are beneficial to society rather than hostile to it. And this Intel effort could not only do that, but also get kids to make the robot become an earlier step into the next big personal technology wave.  




Edited by Alisen Downey



Related Tags

Intel    Tablet    Smartphone
Software    Apps    Open Source

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