Artisan's Asylum is a hackerspace startup in Boston, MA that is hosting classes to build big, bad-ass robots. Their first course set out to build 300-lb autonomous "vending machine robots." That class is winding down, so they're starting a new project: a 2500+ lb. ridable hexapod "spider" robot named Stompy. The robot will feature a propane engine generating 135 HP to hydraulically power six legs, and it will likely cost around $25k-$30k to build (versus $250k that would typically be involved in such an effort). The guys teaching the class are professional roboticsts, having worked at Boston Dynamics, Barrett Technology, and DEKA. So this is a serious endeavor! They're following the same design methodologies that their (current and former) employers use to produce classics such as BigDog, AlphaDog, and PETMAN. They're using the proceeds from the class to fund early development (a one leg cart), followed by a KickStarter project to fund the remainder of the robot (forthcoming announcement). It's a clever way to fund a large robot hardware platform. Conceivably, they could use the resulting robot to generate revenue to for the startup (rentals for promotional events, parades, or wedding processions!) and to bootstrap other robots. Read on for details supplied by Artisan's CEO, Gui Cavalcanti.
Currently, Stompy is just a conceptualization:
As we'll discuss shortly, Stompy is a "class project" for a special robotics course being held by Artisan's Asylum (a hackerspace startup) in Boston, MA. Stompy will ultimately weight more than 2500 lbs, stand more than 2 meters tall, be powered by a 135 HP generator for hydraulic power, and cost in excess of $25k -- about an order of magnitude than most "research level" robots. In true hacker fashion, Stompy is essentially a cross between a forklift (with propane-powered generator) and six excavators.
The course just started about two weeks ago, and is currently in the early hardware / software / simulation design stage:
During my trip to Boston last month, I learned about a cool "hackerspace" called Artisan's Asylum -- just a few T (subway) stops north of MIT / Harvard. I didn't have the chance to physically stop by (so much robotics stuff in Boston!), but I did contact their CEO, Gui Cavalcanti. Gui tells me that they are sorta like Tech Shop, except that prices are much more affordable ($40-$100 per month), they have dedicated "suites" available to rent, they have "regular" classes (eg. electronics, welding, etc), and unique classes: They're not just for learning skills, the students participate in large, meaningful projects that result in "products" for Artisan's Asylum -- sort of like an interactive version of KickStarter. Consider these two classes (advertised on EventBrite):
(Jan 27 -- mid-May)
In this class, students will participate in a small (8-12 person) robotics team that will design, manufacture, and program a 300-pound autonomous robot with the guidance of the instructor as a project manager. The robot will be a snack (and/or drink) vending machine that autonomously travels around Artisan's Asylum while playing "The Entertainer" every hour on the hour, stopping for pedestrian traffic and following a set path. Class time will be a combination of lectures and design exercises, with students voting on particular design elements and working together to come up with solutions to standard mechanical, electrical, and computational engineering problems common to the robotics field. Towards the end of the series, students will be expected to attend build days that will take place outside of class time. All students will become generally familiar with the robot design, fabrication and programming process, and students will choose a specialty to focus on later in the class that they will use to help build the final robot.
(April 17 -- July 31)
In this 4-month class, students will participate in a small (10-12 person) robotics team that will design, manufacture, and program a thousand pound, rideable hexapod robot (likely 8 to 12 feet in diameter), with the instructors of the class both teaching fundamentals of design and acting as project managers to ensure successful completion of the robot. This robot will be the third Artisan's Asylum 'house robot', after the inaugural Robotics Intensive class finishes its robotic vending machine and autonomous shop vacuum robot. The robot will primarily be a showpiece, designed to walk in parades and participate in large-scale public events.
Class time will be a combination of lectures and design exercises, with students deciding on particular design elements and working together to come up with solutions to standard mechanical, hydraulic, electrical, and computational engineering problems common to the robotics field. Towards the end of the series, students will be expected to attend build days that will take place outside of class time. All students will become generally familiar with the robot design, fabrication and programming process, and students will choose a specialty to focus on later in the class that they will use to help build the final robot.
For a few hundred dollars, you can sign up for the classes to learn a whole slew of practical skills -- and produce a very memorable project. Frankly, this sounds awesome. The money for enrollment goes directly to building the robot (or in the case of the Stompy, the $11k worth of enrollment fees is being used to bootstrap the robot with a Kickstarter project to soon follow). The robots can then be used for PR purposes (this project has already generated a lot of publicity) or be rented out for promotional events (parades, birthdays, or weddings!). I like their model, and I think it's something that should be replicated at hackerspaces around the country.
Hackerspaces are popping up around the country. This is obviously a good thing. At one point, I seriously considered building a hackerspace-type startup in Atlanta (where I attended grad school), but ultimately I decided that my dissertation needed to take priority (which I'm sure my 'ole advisor appreciates). My hackerspace idea was little different, so I'd like to share an insight:
University shops (fabrication facilities) typically operate at a significant loss and burden their home departments. During my last few years at Georgia Tech, at least two college-run shops were shuttered. I think there is a real opportunity for hackerspace companies (eg. Artisan's Asylum) to team up with universities. A University partnership could provide consistent recurring revenue (oh, those technology fees!), and the hackerpace can provide a valuable service to students and the community. Hackerspaces should be like modern-day libraries, and should benefit from University sponsorship!
Like libraries, there should also be significant federal, state, and local funding available to hackerspaces too.
Darn you BoingBoing, Slashdot, and DVICE. Hizook was holding off on this article until more tangible details (about the vending machine robots, Stompy, and the KickStarter fundraiser) were ready to be announced -- to help out Artisan's Asylum as much as possible. But no.... "Joe" had to go spill the beans to BoingBoing. ;-)