The shelves and desktops in D.J. Sures’ basement workshop are filled with dismembered toys and metal servos, bundles of wire and piles of processors. It looks like a post-apocalyptic Radio Shack. The founder and CEO of EZ-Robot is more Tony Stark meets Peter Pan than Victor Frankenstein or the bully from “Toy Story,” though. The Calgary-based roboticist has spent his career breaking down the very concept of what a robot should, and can, be. Recently, he introduced us to JD Humanoid ($429), a 1-foot-tall, bipedal bot with 16 degrees of freedom and unlimited possibilities.
Whether you buy it for your kid this Christmas, or just for yourself, this modular machine man is the gift that keeps on giving.
[NED] What is JD Humanoid?
[DJ Sures] There are so many consumer-grade robots out there that are overpriced, hard to use and don’t come with programming or can’t use with your phone. You should be able to connect your phone to your robot. JD is a concept based on the building blocks I came up with for people to make robots. It can be controlled by a phone, Wii Controller or pother devices and programmed with ourEZ-Builder software. They consist of all these parts, legs arms head. Everything is clipped together with our Clip'n'Play system. Even though it looks like a robot, it’s a build. He has cameras, servos, grippers and even streams audio. You can order more pieces off our website, or 3D print them. All our libraries are open sourced and the WiFi chip allows people to write their own code.
What does it do?
The biggest struggle EZ-Robot receives is answering“what does it do?” We ask our customers, “What do you want it to do?”
When Apple computers came out, Steve Jobs said they did anything you want it to do. It took a couple years for enough people to make it do something that was really relevant.
He’ll dance, recognize colors and objects. That’s never enough. The idea is really to push the limits of ourselves and the industry. The world is looking for how can a robot help me in life. One person took all parts and made a long arm that could feed him cereal. And it’s controlled by voice command. Imagine putting that at the end of a cane or walker and it could pick up a rag off the floor, so your great grandparent doesn’t have to bend down. Because, we designed it to be modular, that’s where we think about the possibility.
Why should people consider buying this for their children over a video game system or other robot?
Because you want them to have a job in the future. It’s going to be a tough future if children don’t understand robotics in the next 10 years. And the school system is not embracing robot technology. This is the first time since the ’80s that technology is outrunning education. A lot of schools are suffering because they can’t keep up.
We like to think this product inspires more than just building a robot, though. All of our customers want their kids to learn, have fun and think about what they can do. We’re not limited in the sense that you buy the robot and that’s all there is to it. When they get it, 12-year-olds can use the built in features, make it walk, make it dance, and impress their family. Then a week later they’re teaching it to track objects and listen to voice commands. Then they’re making apps on his phone to control the robot.
What got you interested in robots?
It was movies. Hollywood was investing so much in robotics with CGI and special effects. You get home and you Google and there’s nothing close. I would go to Toys R Usevery week to see if there was some robot I could buy. I bought them all. I have tons of bins and boxes. Lots of them I turned into robots that did stuff.
Just last weekend, I added the parts from the EZ-Robot Kit to a Star Wars AT-AT. The servos are in its knees and head. I really want it to be like a dog in my house. The idea was to give this the feeling it’s alive. That’s what we want to do: Embrace people’s imagination and bring things to life.
Note: If you want to get started with your own JD Humanoid, visit here for a list of retailers!