A Scots inventor will launch a crowdfunding campaign next week to kick-start production on a toy robot which could radically alter how children learn about mechanics and computer programming.
Dr Alexander Enoch is the creator of Marty - a fun-size machine with distinctive eyebrows that can walk, dance and even play football.
It has been hailed as one of the UK’s most exciting technological spin-outs, thanks in part to its innovative design.
Each machine is made from 3D printable parts, and can be controlled by a smartphone.
The 30-year-old from Edinburgh has already won the backing of the Royal Academy of Engineering, which helped him found his own company, Robotical.
“Robotical can help children learn coding skills, mechanics and give them hands on engineering skills,” Dr Enoch said.
“The robot will help more kids get into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mechanical) subjects and give them the chance to get hands on with robotics.” Marty, the eye-catching robot that Dr Enoch has produced, was inspired by research at the University of Edinburgh - and a young relative.
“I was working with quite big, cumbersome walking robots for my PhD at Edinburgh,” he said. “Marty was partly in a response to that. I wanted to make a much more simple walking robot that’s fun to work with.
“I was also looking for a robot toy for my niece, Juliet, and I couldn’t find one that I liked as a robotics engineer - so I set out to make one.
“Robots that can walk – and are expressive – are a lot better at engaging younger children. There’s not a huge number out there.
“There are some smart toys – which are basically remote-controlled cars with legs – and anything beyond that costs hundreds of pounds which is really geared towards adult hobbyists.
“Marty is much more simple. Anyone can get him working.”
Dr Enoch, known as Sandy to friends, developed an innovative mechanism which moves the robot’s legs and helps keeps costs down by using less components.
“I guess the other part that makes Marty unique is his eyebrows - but that’s more a stylistic thing,” he added.
The word robot was first used in 1921 by the Czech writer Karel Čapek in his science-fiction play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, and quickly entered common usage.
Since then, automatons have been the subject of countless books and films - but constructing a real example capable of even basic tasks remains a challenging and time-consuming process.
While Marty is designed to capture the attention of young minds, he has a very serious purpose.
“These toys have a great opportunity to be educational,” he said. “Robotics is a place where programming, electronics and mechanics all converge. It’s a great way to learn about any of those subjects.
“Robotics is a growing field. The world is going to need a lot more robotics engineers – and engineers in general – over the next few years. So anything we can do to encourage people to take an interest in it has to be a good thing.”
Following feedback at the recent Engage Invest Exploit (EIE) investor showcase in Edinburgh, Dr Enoch will launch a crowdfunder to pay for the initial production run of his robot.
A total of 1,000 Martys will be made and sold directly via the Robotical website. If the sale goes well, he hopes major retailers will soon step in with orders.
“We need to raise at least £50,000 - if we reach that, the mass-production becomes viable,” he said.
“My preference is to keep the manufacturing in Scotland. For one thing, you can monitor production quality much more closely.”
The inventor is currently Robotical’s only full-time employee, but is assisted by two others he hopes will soon be able to join the firm on a permanent basis.
Winning a fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering also proved to a timely boost to the fledgling firm.
“They’ve helped me make pitches more precisely without getting too bogged down in the details,” he said. Once Marty the robot does go on sale, Dr Enoch will listen to feedback with interest - especially from his seven-year-old niece.
“She’s wanted one for a while,” he said. “She finds him very cute.”