Price (RRP): $899
Manufacturer: BTech Robotics Corporation
Some futurists fear the singularity – the moment at which artificial intelligence reaches such a point of advancement it can improve its own design, advancing at a supercharged rate well beyond the ken, let alone control, of humans. So perhaps it’s time to start familiarising ourselves with our future robotic overlords.
In that spirit, I introduce to you the UBTech Robots Corporation Alpha 1 Pro robot.
Is it a robot? What is a robot? Let me describe and you can decide.
The Alpha 1 Pro is a “humanoid” style robot standing just short of 400mm tall. Much of it is encased in white plastic and it features various LEDs around its body which can light up in different colours, while its “eyes” and “ears” can glow blue.
Its joints are exposed in order to give it the specified sixteen degrees of freedom. That means it has lots of servo motor in its arms and legs. In each arm there is a rotator at the shoulder, plus an up and down servo at the should and elbow. That provides sufficient freedom of movement to give life-like arm movements … except that it can be creepier because the elbow can bend backwards.
There are two servos for each side at the hips: one for sideways movement, one for to and fro. The knees are two and fro only while the feet can be driven both to and fro and sideways. If you’ve been counting, that makes up the sixteen.
That permits sufficient freedom of movement for the unit to walk forwards or backwards, turn to the left or right, stand on one foot, kick and punch and dance. A lot of the available functions are dances that last a few minutes. To that end, it also has a built in speaker with three watts of power for producing music.
On its back is a fairly hefty battery pack which is rated at providing better than sixty minutes run time. On the top of the battery pack (which is apparently replaceable) is the power button, the power input (a small wall transformer provides the power for charging) and a MiniUSB socket for connecting to a computer. There’s also a red emergency stop button, which of course is something that science fiction movie viewers know must be fitted to all robots, lest disaster ensue.
The main connection you will use is Bluetooth.
The UBTech Alpha 1 Pro, perhaps a little surprisingly, is floppy until you switch it on. When on it stands in a default stable position with its arms thrust out to the sides, ready to dance or whatever. When powered down, the servos are all released and it just crumples down (best to hold it to avoid damage). It’s actually kind of cute.
You control the unit with an app on an Android or iOS device, which connects to the Alpha 1 Pro via Bluetooth. There is also allegedly Windows and Mac software available to provide more advanced programming, but I’ll return to that later.
My understanding of how it works is that the program of actions are fed from the control device to the robot which them dumbly runs through them as a script. The internal processor for the unit provides control over the servos and makes sure they do what they’re supposed to. It’s unclear whether there’s any internal feedback from the servos – if, for example, they cannot fully perform the ordered action. I suspect not but I can’t say for certain. What I can say is that the programming consists of a simple sequence of actions, which the robot tries to do regardless of its position. Even if it falls over it will just plough on with the actions in order.