For someone without a background or education in engineering and electronics, robotics can be a daunting field. That’s why Jeffrey Moore of The Animech Project is developing robotics kits that help teach those skills in a fun and accessible way.
The Animech Project, on display at this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area, is creating robotics kits with interchangeable parts attached to a common core. Using the interchangeable parts, you can make the core into a dog, a dragon, or a Tyrannosaurus Rex. A humanoid robot is currently being developed. I had a chance to catch up with Jeffrey Moore, the project’s founder and lead developer, at Maker Faire Bay Area.
Rise of the Robots
“The idea has been in my head probably about 4-5 years,” said Moore. “I don’t have a background in engineering or programming, so I had to learn this on my own. But I’ve always had the idea ever since I was a little kid. I started off with RC cars and RC planes, and that was my segue into developing robots.”
“I’ve been working on [the Animech Project] for the past two, two and a half years,” said Moore. “Really as a part time thing, which is why it took so long. I completed the first one a year ago. As I was developing it, I was developing a modular system so the next one wouldn’t take as long. The core components stay the same and the attachments change. So the next one took me about six months, and the one after that — because the T-Rex is a lot different than the other two — it took a little longer than six months to finish that one.” All three models made an appearance at Maker Faire Bay Area.
I asked Moore about his inspiration for the project. “I love cartoons! I was an anime head,” he said, with Gundam being a notable influence. “Zoids pushed me towards animal-based robots, which are a little easier than humanoid, although I’m working on a humanoid robot now that I have more experience.”
Trial and Error (and Error, and Error…)
With no background in engineering, programming, or 3D printing, a project of this scope is daunting. Three years ago, Moore did not quite know where to start. “To be honest with you, I have no idea. I think it’s a trial and error thing. The background in engineering was cheated,” Moore said. He emphasized the importance of visualization and drew an analogy to assembling furniture. ”When you go to IKEA and buy something, you kind of have to visualize what’s on the box so you can put it together. So really it’s the same process as I was developing. A lot of trial and error, a lot of wasted filament. As you do that, you learn what works and what doesn’t. And maybe something doesn’t work for what I want right now, but i could use it later — so I never throw any parts away. It’s a lot of using my imagination and using my hands. Basically just trial and error.” Judging from the demo at this year’s Maker Faire, Moore’s trial-and-error approach has succeeded.
The modularity of the project is a major selling point. “There are only about six different parts; you just combine them in different ways. The special parts, that’s where you lose money.” Moore compares the system to Legos. “You can make anything with the same bricks. There’s only that slight change — you get a box full of them and you can make so many different things. That’s the model I’m going for. You swap a few pieces and you can go from a dog to a dragon like that.”
Teaching the Next Generation
When asked if he’d had any mentors along the way, Moore laughed. “I wish. The biggest thing is access to resources online. The internet makes a lot of things available. I’ve wasted a lot of ink at my job printing out stuff to read at home.” Working with a single 3D printer, Moore has plenty of time to read while waiting for a print to finish.
Moore hopes that the project will help children gain the education in robotics and electronics that he didn’t get. “If you just sit down and build the kit, it’ll take you about a day. And there’s a lot that goes into these, a lot of engineering principles, a lot of learning by doing. As you see those things, it helps to build that foundation for you.”
Despite the part-time nature of the project, Moore balks at calling it a hobby. “Hobby makes it sound like I don’t have intentions for this, but I’m trying to develop the idea so I can bring it to market and quit my day job. I love my day job, I have an excellent job, but I’d rather be doing this. I work 9-5, then I get home and do this from 6-10.” Without a garage or a basement, Moore has built a robot lab in his apartment. “In the living room. My wife hates it,” he laughs. “My wife is watching TV and I’m building robots, the 3D printer is running…”
Moore’s passion is evident in the way he speaks about the project. When I encountered him at Maker Faire, he was already losing his voice after having talked about the project with so many people. His booth held up traffic as people stopped to listen.
The next version, which he hopes to debut at New York Maker Faire in October, will have WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity and follow him around the Faire. “I’m happy with the designs of the bodies, so I’m not going to make too many changes there; I’m moving into the programming.”
Future plans for the project include a crowdfunding campaign, hopefully beginning in November. “I have to start thinking about that next step. I’ve got to plan how to make these kits available. I like where we’re going with the process. It’s enjoyable,” said Moore.
As we finished up, Moore mentioned that he has a secret plan that is going to “change the way we think about robots.” His excitement is obvious. “Stage Two is going to blow your mind.”