JOURNALIST • EDITOR • DIGITAL STORYTELLING
AROMAS — Engineer Jay Hurley envisions a legion of palm-sized programmable robots buzzing around our houses, chirping greetings, learning new tricks from each other and teaching the next generation of us to program new antics.
“They’re designed to be able to express themselves, to learn, to play and to evolve,” said Hurley, who is in the midst of a $50,000 crowdfunding campaign to create his team of mini robots known as “Droidles.”
As an open source technology project that uses Bluetooth radio communication as well as smartphone connections to the Internet cloud, Droidles can talk to each other, sort of. They not only recognize other Droidles that they’ve met before, they each have the ability to respond to each other and they can have their own website that they post to automatically so they learn from each other.
They “have social lives of their own,” Hurley said.
Similar to the more mundane Pet Rock of the 1970s or more advanced Zhu Zhu Pets of the last decade, Droidles are cute, but these little two-wheeled, circular robots made of hard plastic are also socially networked. If they capture the imagination of funders, we could see an open source platform for budding programmers to learn about robotics as well as the potential for research data on artificial intelligence and swarm intelligence.
“We are hoping people will pick up on it and use it for research and do all kinds of things that we never thought of,” said Tom Poliquin of Felton who is lead electrical designer on the project. “The Droidles have incredible brains to do lot of stuff.”
Poliquin, a computer software and hardware engineer who teaches a variety of related courses at the University of California Extension, said the first time they had a working prototype they couldn’t stop laughing at what it was doing. “This is an incredible canvas for us to write our ideas on.”
If funded, Droidles will be a resource for the Digital NEST, a newly created technology center for youth aged 12-24 in Watsonville.
“I was blown away by it,” said Jacob Martinez, Digital NEST founder and executive director. Martinez said he hopes to be able to use Droidles to teach youth basic programming skills. “What made this special was the interactivity between the Droidles and the behaviors that can emerge out of these things,” Martinez said. “I’m excited about being involved.”
Hurley cautioned that it’s still a project, rather than a fully formed product at this point.
“The idea is to draw in a wider group of people to create new software,” Hurley said. “We’re interested to see what sorts of behaviors our Droidles may exhibit because we don’t know. You can be an engineer.”
Hurley Research LLC
What: Creator of Droidles, a socially networked hand-size robot that is programmable but also designed to evolve to learn new activities.
Headquarters: Private residence in Aromas
Background: Founded in 2013 by Jay Hurley
Leadership: Jay Hurley, managing member.
Information: 831-251-5389; www.droidles.com
Financials: The company has raised nearly $4,000 in an online crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.com to raise $50,000 by Aug. 29.
To contribute: http://tinyurl.com/nhk6jrq
Cost: $89 per Droidle