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Dash Robotics at the Hardware Innovation Workshop.Photo: Andrew Terranova

Dash Robotics at the Hardware Innovation Workshop.
Photo: Andrew Terranova

The problem with the world today is there simply aren’t enough robots that can be dropped into an envelope and mailed, then folded like origami into a insect-like shape.

OK, maybe that’s not the world’s primary problem today, but it does represent an innovative approach to getting bio-inspired robots into the hands of anyone who wants them… cheaply.

I first learned about Dash Robotics when I met CTO and Co-Founder Kevin Peterson at MAKE’s Hardware Innovation Workshop back in May 2013. I was intrigued by the combination of robotics and the folded plastic-cardboard construction. The four founders of the company were all PhD students at the University of California, Berkeley when they got together. Paul Birkmeyer, Chief Engineer, is the inventor of Dash, a programmable robot that can be folded and assembled in about 30 minutes.

Left to Right: CTO Kevin Peterson, CEO Nick Kohut, COO Andrew Gillies, Chief Engineer Paul Birkmeyer.Photo: Dash Robotics

Left to Right: CTO Kevin Peterson, CEO Nick Kohut, COO Andrew Gillies, Chief Engineer Paul Birkmeyer.
Photo: Dash Robotics

Now Dash Robotics is launching a campaign on Dragon Innovation’s new crowdfunding platform. They will sell the Dash beta prototype robot kits to the first 1,000 supporters in an effort to fund a commercial release next year. They are the first robotics company to use this innovative combination of plastic backed micro-thin cardboard and a bio-inspired design.

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It may look simplistic, but the design of this robot is based on work with leading biologist Robert Full, whose study of the mechanisms of creatures like cockroaches and geckos is driving new robotic designs. Weight is kept to a minimum by utilizing the 1,000th of an inch thick plastic-cardboard material and legs that can be moved with a single actuator. The little robots can run at a pace of 5 to 6 feet per second, scamper over obstacles, and survive an eight story drop. They can be fitted with small Arduino-compatible controllers with built-in or add-on sensors.

The company plans to begin by marketing Dash as a toy to inspire kids to learn about mechanics, electronics, and biology. Looking to the future, there are many possible applications. Dash robots could help make swarm robotics research more affordable. With the appropriate sensors, they could be deployed to monitor agricultural crops for pests or search for survivors in an earthquake or other disaster.

Perhaps, what the world really needs are robots that can be dropped into an envelope and mailed, then folded like origami into a insect-like shape.

Andrew Terranova

Andrew Terranova is an electrical engineer, writer and an electronics and robotics hobbyist. He is an active member of the Let’s Make Robots community, and handles public relations for the site.
Andrew has created and curated robotics exhibits for the Children’s Museum of Somerset County, NJ and taught robotics classes for the Kaleidoscope Learning Center in Blairstown, NJ and for a public primary school. Andrew is always looking for ways to engage makers and educators.


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