A Las Vegas team met at a hackerspace in downtown Las Vegas to launch a do-it-yourself Delta Robot kit that’s fun to build, sharp to look at, and a great point of departure for your own robotics project. After launching on Kickstarter, the project was successfully funded on March 3, 2014 by 289 backers pledging over $25,000.
“The purpose of the Kickstarter wasn’t entirely to bring a product to market,” explained co-founder Sarah Petkus. “Our primary motive was to fund an art installation I’ve been working on for a long time now. The installation “Light Play” is an immersive interactive environment comprised of many small delta robots which move and light up as a response to body motion in order to simulate the sensation of having control over an army of machines.”
“This project is the result of my desire to recreate illustrations I made depicting people hovering in the dark over a sea of glowing incandescent light bulbs,” Sarah Petkus continues. “To pull off creating this highly reactive experience, I adopted the delta robot type because they are relatively easy to build, elegant in form, and swiftly cover a wide range of motion.”
Around the time she started prototyping the delta robot design for the project, she met Mark Koch at a SYN Shop meetup. Mark Koch is a Las Vegas native and 20 year veteran of Silicon Valley who is interested in electronics, robotics, micro controllers, coding, hacking. He is also co-founder of SYN Shop, the Las Vegas Hackerspace.
“Mark had always wanted to make a delta robot of his own, so we immediately hit it off and started working in tandem on our own separate projects. Over time our efforts bled together and we decided to prepare a Kickstarter back in October of last year,” said Sarah Petkus.
“Mark and I agreed that the best way to get the word out about our art installation while simultaneously raising the funds to produce it, was to launch a Kickstarter campaign,” she said. “Instead of listing the project as “art”, we wanted to involve the DIY community by offering the design of our robot as a kit. The demo code we develop is open source, allowing others to participate at home, expand on what we’ve done, and actively be a part of the whole experience by giving feedback.”
“By deploying our delta minions out all over the world, we are hoping to create a sense of ownership and community around the project that will continue beyond the lifespan of the art installation,” said co-founder Mark Koch.
“What Mark and I have in common is that we both love the challenge of designing something better than anyone else has. Since we met, we’ve had a friendly competition over who can build a better robot; him with his mad engineering background… or me with my artistic repertoire,” Sarah Petkus said.
Sarah Petkus and Mark Koch say one of the most challenging things about the Kickstarter experience was shamelessly advertising the project.
“It was up to Mark and I to get the word out as much as possible, and as two introverts, it took effort to do what felt like nagging a bunch of people we didn’t know,” Sarah Petkus explained. “Regardless, I repackaged the idea of our project a dozen or so times in so many different voices that I began to figure out who needed to hear what in order to get the attention I was looking for. As futile as it seemed in the beginning, by the last week of our campaign we did get some extra coverage that gave our Kickstarter a nice push right at the end.”
The duo said it was also tricky to gauge and anticipate the scope of fulfillment for the campaign. They had accounted for a small volume production, but there was still the chance that they would overshoot their own expectations and sell thousands of kits.
“The last thing we wanted was to have a ton of money and no idea how to go about spending it properly,” said Mark Koch.
“We needed to figure out our plan of action in that circumstance,” Sarah Petkus added. “This involved getting quotes for pieces in different volumes, and researching several methods of having our parts produced, so that whether we sold our minimum of a hundred kits or a million of them, we would know exactly how to proceed. The worst feeling is realizing you aren’t quite sure where something on your bill of materials is coming from or how it’s being made, then getting hit with the cost after the fact. Plan. Know your bill of materials and know where you are ordering things from along with several backup suppliers before you launch!”
The Robot Army LLC team advises teams on Kickstarter to look up the rates on international shipping, as it is more expensive to send things out of the United States than it is for the rest of the world to send things here.
“If you are going to take orders from international customers, look up the rates! It isn’t cheap,” they advise. “Keep that in mind when choosing the international shipping cost for your tiers.”
Because of how the duo approached the Kickstarter campaign, they say they decided to start Robot Army LLC and have since established a brand.
“We enjoyed bringing our first model to market so much that we’re already scheming about repeating the whole process again this winter with a new kit,” said Sarah Petkus.
“As for the installation, now that the numbers are growing in our army of deltas, we want to march all over Las Vegas and share the megalomaniacal experience with everyone,” she continued. “Right now we are working on choreographing the movement of the collective with discrete bodily motion, but we want to start development with neural input next. Who wouldn’t love to control an army of robots with their mind?”
Sarah Petkus and Mark Koch invite the #VegasTech community to come see their collective in person once it starts making its way around town.
“Also, if you want to adopt a neon yellow robot of your own, we are still taking pre-orders on our website,” Mark Koch adds.
About SYN Shop: SYN Shop is a hackerspace located in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is a space for sharing, creation, collaboration, research, development, mentoring, and of course, learning. Our motto is: “Let’s make stuff awesome!” SYN Shop was started back in 2008, when a bunch of DIY enthusiasts decided that instead of hiding in our garages, workshops and offices, we should instead come together and start a community around the things we are passionate about.