Meet Elmo 2.0.
The robotics startup XYZBot has launched a Kickstarter project for a new bot called Fritz, a robotic puppet head whose facial expressions can closely mimic those of a human, and who can be controlled remotely via computer, joystick or gaming controller. Fritz also has a text-to-speech feature, allowing a new breed of robo-ventriloquists to make their computerized puppet "talk."
Fritz will ship to Kickstarter backers as a build-him-yourself kit, to teach youngsters about the basics of robotics; once constructed, Fritz's facial features can be manipulated using a Windows app, either in real time or by recording a sequence of movements that can be replayed on command. The jaw, eyebrows, eyelids and neck of the puppet can move, so that Fritz convey a wide range of emotions.
You can watch Fritz in action -- and receive a pitch on why you should back this nascent Kickstarter project -- below:
A "basic Fritz" will sell for $125, though other kits with bonus features will be available for more. Those who have already purchased a 3D printer -- like another popular Kickstarter project, the Formlab -- also have the option of paying just for the files to control Fritz and printing their own parts.
Fritz is the brainchild of Kerwin Lumpkins and Steven Gentner, two engineers with an extensive history in robotics; Gentner, in fact, was a member of the historic Mercury Project, way back in 1995, which the project website claims was the first to allow "WWW users to remotely view and alter the real world via tele-robotics." Together, the two started XYZBot, whose first venture is Fritz. Lumpkins wrote in an email that the team hopes to expand Fritz into a more fully-featured humanoid robot, perhaps as "a robotic receptionist with face recognition capabilities."
XYZBot has made all the Fritz software open-source to speed that process along. For now, you'll need a Windows computer to run the application that controls Fritz, an example of which you can see below:
A simple interface for controlling different emotions on Fritz' face. You can also manually change the robot's eyebrows, mouth, eyelids and neck.
XYZBot is hoping to raise $25,000 on Kickstarter to mass-manufacture the first set of Fritzes. As of this writing, the company is about a third of the way there, with a month to go. But even should the Kickstarter project fail to raise that sum, Lumpkins won't be too disappointed.
"If Fritz is not successful," he wrote, "oh well, it is still the coolest thing I have ever worked on."