Robots in the home are far from a new thing. If you have a central heating timer, even if it’s 40 years old, it’s a robot – it just (normally) doesn’t have arms and legs. And more complex robots, though still not in any recognisable humanoid form, are commonplace in factories.
Humanoid robots are actually a bit of a vanity project for homo sapiens. Even if you dream of having your morning tea brought to you by a mechanical butler, it’s probably not going to happen – we just don’t really need them. But while I don’t believe they will ever have a practical use, humanoid robots are extremely interesting if you are fond of mechanics, computer programming or science generally – or of just being enormously amused. And fascinated.
Because I was busy for about a month’s worth of evenings building the Meccano G15KS robot I video-demoed recently on Howtospendit.com, I kept my sample of another one – a 398mm-tall Chinese humanoid – on a shelf for ages before opening it. I wish I had leapt on it sooner, because the Alpha 1S, from Ubtech of Shenzhen, is beyond brilliant. If you want a shortcut to understanding why I say this, go to YouTube and search for “2016 CCTV Spring Festival Gala 540 robots dance performance by a troupe”. There you will see the astonishing agility of the Alpha 1S – as well as be entertained by the magnificence of Chinese television at its gaudiest.
For an idea of just how agile the Alpha 1S is: the Meccano robot manages some remarkably humanlike movement with six motor/servo joints; the Alpha 1S, on the other hand, has 16 such joints. This makes for uncanny robot dancing, tai chi and – seriously – athletics. I found it enthralling just using the preset motion routines on the iPhone and Android control app. If you, or a young person in your household, goes deeper into the Ubtech ecosystem, there are infinite ways to explore its capabilities. Ubtech is an award-winning humanoid robotics “unicorn” (ie, startup valued at over $1bn) whose founder, James Chow, wants to “take robots out of research labs and into homes”.
For children, I would also recommend Ubtech’s Jimu Robot sets, comprising hundreds of parts with which to make and move a huge range of robot monsters. Truly wonderful design, engineering, imagination – everything.