A robot you build in weekly instalments as part of a magazine subscription wouldn’t normally get the pulse racing, but then Robi is no ordinary DIY android.
For starters, he wasn't created by just any old back-room enthusiast. He's the brainchild of leading robotics expert Professor Tomotaka Takahashi, the man who put the world’s first humanoid robot into space back in 2013.
Robi has also got some pretty impressive credentials, he can talk, sing, walk, dance, even turn your TV on, and will have an extensive vocabulary of over 250 phrases, which in the specially designed version available in Singapore, includes some Singlish alongside the standard Chinese and English. Wahlao eh!
Robi is aimed at being that next step in the evoloution of robotics, a truly interactive companion, that could potentially replace the need for pets, or even people in your life. The reality is that it's not quite there yet.
The prototype we tested out didn’t have such a wide range of capabilities, and yet, despite standing only 34cm high, Robi still managed to grab the attention of our whole office when he began gyrating on a colleague’s table.
His Astro Boy-style design is a big bonus. It gives him a look that’s both sleek and still pretty cute. His body movements are also pretty impressively human as he decides to clamber into a prone position and starts busting out push ups. And that’s before he swivels his head, flashes those giant LED eyes at you and tells you he loves you.
In the short term, he’s a lot of fun, and certainly had the kids who were shown it transfixed. His speech recognition was pretty decent too, despite having four people shouting at once for him to stand up, dance or work out. Of course the limited range of responses and actions we could get from the prototype, meant we also got bored pretty quickly but the full model may have a little bit more staying power due to the much wider range of responses and reactions.
Talking of staying power the manufacturers reckon the battery will last around 20 minutes per charge before you need to put him back on his charging seat, which slots into a rather private part of Robi's anatomy.
A Lengthy Affair
But before you go rushing to the store to get your very own Robi, be warned. This is not an off-the-shelf automaton but actually a long term science project that won’t be cheap.
You see, the trouble is you can only get your hands available by subscribing to the ROBI weekly magazine which gives you assembly instructions, the physical parts and general educational materials about robotics to boot. The first issue of the magazine will be available in stores on 5 July.
The good news is they promise that it’s pretty straightforward to build Robi and no prior knowledge is needed, with the screwdriver that comes with the first issue the only thing you need in terms of tools.
The bad news is that while the first issue is just SG\$9.90 subsequent issues are S$28.90 per issue (with some costing even more) and there are 70 issues to collect before you actually have your finished robot. That’s a real stumbling block for us and quite the shame. We’d love to be able get our hands on a fully working model for a play, and while the having to build it part is not insurmountable, the fact that it would take almost two years and cost nearly S$2000 probably is.
If you want to catch Robi in person then Professor Tomotaka will be demonstrating just what he can do as part of a Road Show set to take place from 9 to 10 July at Marina Square Shopping Mall.