Dash Robotics is using crowdfunding to help build its first hobbyist robot for home robotics enthusiast, with the aim of providing advanced tech for very little money thanks to a unique combination of materials, design and manufacturing. Dash’s first robo is a smartphone-controlled, insect-like running robot, which can be shipped in a flat pack as a 2D kit, and then folded out “origami” style and assembled by consumers at home.
The Dash is designed by a team of Berkeley PhD students, including Nick Kohut, Paul Birkmeyer, Andrew Gillies and Kevin Peterson, who worked together in the Millisystems Lab on robots using small legs. The team worked out a revolutionary way to manufacture new prototypes quickly and cheaply, in order to help with experimentation, and were surprised to find that people witnessing them in action had a “strong, visceral reaction” (you can see if you feel the same when you view the video below) and wanted to know if they were for sale, Kohut explained in an interview.
“Dash is very engaging, we’ve seen boys and girls play with him for hours before being pulled away by their parents,” Kohut said, discussing not only the product’s appeal but also why he and his co-founders think it’s needed. “Dash is also dramatically low cost. ‘Low cost’ robotics today means about $150, but we’re pricing Dash at $65 [for an unassembled unit], less than half that. This is possible because of our unique flat manufacturing process, which allows us to build Dash out of affordable materials, and our animal-inspired design, which means we don’t have to compromise on performance at that price point.”
The Dash is available in alpha form (runs straight, doesn’t do much else) unassembled for $40, in beta form (navigable, more extensible) for $65, and fully assembled by the founders themselves as a complete unit for $100. Kohut says that it’s also highly hackable, and Arduino compatible, so that home hobbyists are limited mostly by their imagination in terms of what else they can make Dash do. The robot as designed can run at over 5 feet per second, and will run for over a mile on a single battery charge.
For Dash Robotics, this insectoid runner is just the beginning. Kohut says that they plan to expand their core product offerings in the future, as well as offer up a variety of accessories.
“In our past lives as PhD researchers, we’ve added wings, tails, and even gecko feet to these robots,” he said. “It would be really cool to see a “Gecko Dash” kit that can climb walls. Additionally, enabling these robots to talk to each other would open up all kinds of possibilities. You could have them race or battle and keep score, or cooperate to complete a mission, guided by your smartphone.”
Long-term, Kohut sees possibilities extending beyond the hobbyist sphere. The size, lightweight construction, all-terrain capabilities and cost of the current Dash would all be assets for use in search-and-rescue operations, he says. You can imagine sending in swarms up thousands of Dash robots into a collapsed building with CO2 sensors to located survivors, for instance. Minefield clearing is another use case that comes to mind.
Dash Robotics sees itself as part of a movement, which includes Adafruit and others, to inspire and grow the worldwide community of makers. The new crowdfunding platform Dash is using to launch the project, Dragon Innovation, is another player in that movement, with a Kickstarter-style platform aimed specifically at backing makers and their projects. Dash is also looking for traditional Angel investment to get to the mass production stage, and has been part of The Foundry @ CITRIS, a hardware accelerator operating out of UC Berkeley.