As I said, is this a robot? You decide. Whether or not it is, it is clever and an impressive piece of engineering getting an inherently unstable object like the human form to be able to walk around and dance without falling over (although it did manage to do that sometimes).
There’s a community of users so you can download functions and routines from other users using the app and run them. I sampled a few. The dancing apps generally had music coming out of the speaker perforations on the back of the Alpha 1 Pro’s head. There were also storybook routines, in which a children’s story would be read out while the Alpha 1 Pro performed actions relevant to the story. The Alice in Wonderland one had the magic mushroom bowdlerised into fruit juice, but the robot lowered itself to its “haunches” and stretched upright again appropriately as Alice drank. With this function the sound emerged not from the robot but from the controlling phone.
Some of the more energetic dances really required the Alpha 1 Pro to be on a smooth and fairly slippery surface so that its smooth feet could slide. On carpet – even the low pile industrial style of my office – its feet sometimes dug in too deeply at it would topple. It managed to survive these mishaps with no damage, but it was a worry with nearly nine hundred dollars worth of kit.
You can do some basic programming using the app, by moving the robot’s limbs into place, one by one, and adding these as actions. Kind of like recording the actions of a marionette. Once you’ve done that, you can edit their duration.
There are also two “Gamepad” modes – labelled “Soccer” and “Gladiator” – in which your phone becomes a controller with arrow and turn keys, plus an array of actions (mostly kicking for Soccer, hitting for the other).
UBTech says that the Alpha 1 Pro is good for more than an hour of operation on a battery charge. I ran it on a variety of routines, mostly dance ones but also story telling and a few random walk, turn and punch moves. Plus a couple of off and on cycles. It ran for a very impressive one hour and forty five minutes before giving a warning about a low battery. When I charged it up afterwards, my occasional checks on the stopwatch indicated it achieved full charge in somewhere between one hour and fifty minutes and two and a half hours.
You are supposed to be able to do more advanced programming using a PC or Mac program downloaded from the UBTech site. I couldn’t find the software. I turned to customer support for help and 24 hours later was emailed a link to the site from which I could download it.
Essentially this works as an action editor, allowing you to drag in actions to a time line or move the robot in a 3D view. The connection is not Bluetooth for this, but via USB.
This is clearly software designed by engineers principally for themselves for use on a particular computer platform. The screen layout would not render in a nice way on my Microsoft Surface Pro, with a combination of unreadably small characters and overly large ones overlapping their allotted spaces.
I was unable to drag the actions to the timeline successfully, thanks I think to the need to first establish a time line by opening up some music. But that proved to be a problem. The first track I tried was an MP3 using my preferred fairly high variable bitrate encoding (using a good encoder such as LAME, this gives remarkably transparent results). The UBTech software rejected it, saying you have to use MP3 music encoded at no more than 128kbps. So I searched my music until I found a track encoded at 128kbps and tried to open this in the software, but the software crashed. It kept on crashing, even after a reboot.
At that point I gave up.