When I was in Seoul recently, I met with Mark Jaekwang Shin, the CEO of CUBROID, a startup that is working on a modular robot design based on cubes that can be assembled to form more complex mechanisms. CUBROID is taking an educational approach and its native compatibility with LEGO makes makes it stand out against competitors.
There are a few similar concepts out there, like Cubelets ($299) which is probably the closest one, but there are differences.
First, Cubroid is designed for younger kids aged 5-12. The user interface is extremely simple. Secondly, Cubroid is compatible with LEGO blocks out of the box, while Cubelets has accessories to make that work.
I haven’t used either long enough to draw any conclusions, but what’s important is to know that the two options are out there and that the concept in itself is interesting. Cubroid modular robots work like this: they have nine types of Cubes (or building-blocks).
- 1x Master cube: the brain (computer)
- 4x Sensor cubes: Proximity, Light, Touch, Knob
- 4x Action cubes: DC motor, Serve Motor, Sound, LED Light
- There is a “dumb” cube for structural purpose
These cubes don’t use physical electronic connectors, and all blocks talk to each other via Bluetooth (BT). Blocks are controlled over BT from a computer or mobile via an app. When the Master block is loaded with a program, the robot is able to execute an on-board program without being controlled actively by a computer.
The lack of electrical connectors is great, but has a downside: each cube must be charged individually, so be prepared to have quite a few micro-USB cables around.
The programmability of Cubroid is available mainly via the tablet and PC apps. Designed for kids, it allows simple sensing+reaction as the main programming events. At the moment, more complex forms of programming such as loops and branches are not available with the simple kid-UI, although it’s not off the table says its creator. Visual programming can quickly become complex if you start adding these things.
For developers and hackers, there may be a way to get a more complex software development kit (SDK), although Cubroid is focused on education right now, as it is the main way to reach a high volume. In turn, the volume could drive the cost down and the profits up. The DIY market is definitely of interest, but a small company needs to choose its battles.
I liked the fact that Cubroid cubes are designed elegantly with the native LEGO compatibility. The first user interface I have seen in Korea was simple and seems easy enough for kids to use. However, I would love to see one that can manage at least branching in addition to events. Loops would be great, some day.
First presented in January 2017, Cubroid has received a larger audience at MWC 2017. It has evolved and was being shown at MWCA. There will be a final round of demo at CES 2018, and the product should ship in Feburary 2018. So far, it has smashed its modest Kickstarter goal of $10,000 an went past $40,000 at publishing time. The basic kit starts with a pledge of $149. If you are not familiar with crowdfunding, learn about the basics first.