Meet Marty the Robot
Marty is a new breed of robot – fun, educational and affordable. Here Edit meets its creator.
While studying for his PhD in Robotics at the University, as a side project Sandy Enoch developed a moving, 3D printable, smartphone-controllable robot. As he prepares to launch Marty, Sandy tells his story so far.
Since I finished my thesis in late 2015, I’ve been trying to be an entrepreneur. I set up a company called Robotical, and we’ve been working on commercialising Marty the Robot. Marty is a little two legged walking, dancing, football playing robot, designed to be an engaging way to learn about robotics, programming, and engineering – basically a real robot for the price of a smart toy.
We’re very close to launching now, and it’s been an interesting couple of years getting this far.
Breaking the mold
I spent my PhD working on bipedal robotics. Traditionally robots are very rigid, but I made a two legged robot that was bouncy. The end goal was to push towards robots that are more efficient, faster, and can deal with obstacles better than traditional robots.
As I was writing up my thesis I was also trying to think of a birthday present to get for my niece – I figured a robot might be quite apt and so looked at what was out there. Most were basically novelty toys that according to the reviews got boring fast. Proper robots were very expensive, and often had a steep learning curve. There were some quite good wheeled robots, but anybody who’s ever had to demo robots to kids knows that the walking ones cause a lot more excitement.
Making a ‘real’ robot
So, knowing a little bit about walking robots (and wanting a distraction from thesis writing), I decided to see if I could come up with something better. Version one was a mess, but it got me talking to Launch.ed – the University’s commercialisation office for students. They were very supportive. I also attended a Three Day Startup event run by the University, where I lead a team. I got some good feedback, and went back to the drawing board. I needed to make something that was more affordable, friendly looking, and simple to get started with, but with real depth. Compatibility with Scratch, a commonly used block-based programming language, would be a bonus.
To that I added my own mission – I wanted the robot not only to be suitable for the later years of primary school, but also for university-level classes. I wanted to make a ‘real’ robot.
On the move
There were a few obstacles along the way. For instance, there’s a reason good walking robots tend to be expensive. I thought up a mechanism that would let me make a robot that could do many movements – walking, turning, dancing, kicking a ball – but use fewer motors. Fewer motors meant cheaper to make, easier to use, and a longer battery life. That became the basis of Marty’s patent-pending walking mechanism.
Winning the University’s Inspire, Launch, Grow business competition really helped, giving me the cash to live for a few months and build more prototypes, rather than having to get a real job. I was very lucky to then be awarded an Enterprise Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering, and that gave me a salary for a year and a business development fund.
From concept to consumer product
I also needed to make sure that we were making something people actually wanted, and had to raise the money to make tooling and the first batch of products. So, with the help of a few friends and our first intern, we ran a crowdfunding campaign. It was a tricky process but we managed to reach our target, and have now presold the first batch of 1,000 robots.
They say “hardware is hard”; making a walking robot certainly isn’t the easiest product to start with, either. We’ll finally be launching in June, five months later than we’d expected. I’m a bit gutted about that, although our crowdfunding backers have been quite understanding.
In good company
Robotical now has three full-time and two-part time employees. We’ve got a little office in a converted shop, and lots of interest from distributors – who we need to get samples to! We’re looking to grow and take things to the next stage.
Doing the PhD was definitely a useful springboard into doing this, and the support from the University, the Scottish entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the Royal Academy of Engineering has been fantastic.
Meet Marty the Robot, a fully programmable and customisable walking robot.