Tech Innovation

3D-Printed Robot: Meet Jimmy, Built on the Intel Edison Platform

Deb Miller Landau iQ Managing Editor

OK, Imagine this: you want a robot to fetch you a cold beer from the fridge? There’s an app for that. You want a robot to play Legos and make fart jokes with your 10-year-old? There’s an app for that. You need a wingman to cruise the bar scene? Heck, there might be an app for that too.

Meet Jimmy, a customizable, 3D-printable personal robot that could one day be as ubiquitous as a smartphone.

That’s the vision of Intel engineer and futurist Brian David Johnson, who, along with a team of designers and engineers has created Jimmy, an open-source 3D-printable robot that waves, dances, chats and tweets (@21CRobot).

“I started designing him ten years ago in science fiction stories and drawings,” says Johnson. He wanted to make Jimmy fun, non-threatening and cute. In New York with Jimmy, Johnson says people stop him on the street and ask, “What does your robot do?”

“Before I give them the real answer,” says Johnson, “I smile and say, he captures the hearts and minds of everyone he meets.”

Jimmy is pretty cute. The consumer version of the humanoid prototype, which runs on Intel’s Edison platform, is 18-inches tall, with a wide friendly head and enough rudimentary clunkiness to keep intimidation at bay.

Produced by Trossen Robotics in Chicago, Jimmy will be available in a kit – complete with a 3D printable exoskeleton, servo-motors, batteries, design files and a series of customizable apps. Coming in the fall, the kits will retail for $1,600, though some companies like Arcbotics believe that by sourcing materials from Shenzen, they can get the cost down to $600.

Johnson’s vision is that once consumers get a hold of the hardware, they are open to developing new apps and other software to create their own customized Jimmy (or Judy, John or Joan)..

Apps currently in development will allow Jimmy to take a picture and tweet it autonomously. There will be apps to turn Jimmy into an alarm clock, apps to make him tango or rock out to AC/DC. There’s an app where, when Jimmy sees you he says, “Did you know…” then recites information from a Twitter or RSS feed. The possibilities are endless and developers are chomping at the bit to use software like Intel XDK, which enables users to easily write web and hybrid apps to deploy across app stores and devices.

Jimmy was developed in conjunction with the 21st Century Project, a forum for makers all over the world to collaborate and build robots using open-source files and available apps. Though Johnson is quick to point out that Intel is not in the robot-making business, he feels passionate that Intel is in the business of giving users inspiring tools to go, create and innovate.

“Jimmy is just one of the ways that Intel is reaching out to the maker community and a whole new generation of developers,” he says.

According to ABI Research, which conducts in-depth analysis and quantitative forecasting of global tech trends, consumer robotics sales are on a steep rise. A recent report suggests sales will hit $6.5 billion in 2017, compared with $1.6 billion in 2012. The report adds that “The market for processors, microcontrollers, sensors, and physical components including actuators, servos, and manipulators was a little over $700 million in 2012 and will grow by five times that amount by 2017.”

The possibility of having robots walking around in our midst is both fascinating and somewhat unsettling. But it’s also inevitable, so why not let it be a living thing that grows and changes and becomes smarter the more minds and fingers and ideas jump into the mix?

“Today we have an entire generation that has grown up never knowing a time when there wasn’t an Internet, “ says Johnson. “I am constantly surprised and amazed at the ideas and creativity of this generation. They are unencumbered by the past.”

Johnson’s science-fiction book, 21st Century Robot, will launch at New York’s Maker Faire in September. It explores the fictional world of Jimmy and his human handler. Like Jimmy, the book is dedicated to anyone born after 2014.

Says Johnson, “It is my hope that they will be the generation that has never known a time when they couldn’t imagine, design, build, program and share their robots. Just imagine the incredible, silly and awesome things they will build!”

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