Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Super Awesome Sylvia's WaterColorBot by Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories — Kickstarter

Super Awesome Sylvia's WaterColorBot by Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories — Kickstarter

The Friendly and Educational Art Robot that Paints with Watercolors!

Starting with vector artwork on your computer-- or following along as you sketch in real time --the WaterColorBot dips its brush in water, goes and gets the right color of paint, and paints before your eyes.
The WaterColorBot works with standard watercolor paints and paper, so that you never need to purchase specialized or expensive supplies. It is made in the USA with a tough and sturdy wooden frame to last for years of use.

While a robotic painting "printer" can be an incredibly fun thing on its own, the WaterColorBot is also a genuine (if simple and friendly) computer-automated, numerically controlled (CNC) machine-- and that lets you do some amazing things.
For an example, take a look at the two paintings shown above-- they are nearly perfect copies. One was painted right one painted right after the other. With the WaterColorBot, you can easily make an extra painting for Grandma. (And you can always save the file for later, just in case something happens to the one on the fridge.)

How the WaterColorBot works

The WaterColorBot is essentially a specialized pen plotter that uses a set of watercolors.
To move the paint brush, there are two motors built into the frame of the robot. Each motor drives a little winch that moves a length of cord attached to a rod that controls either the X or Y position of the brush.
This same mechanism (right down to the winches and cords) can be found inside many vintage plotters and chart recorders. It is also the same mechanism that an Etch-a-Sketch uses, except that instead of a stylus, we have a carriage that moves the brush up and down.

What's in the box?

The WaterColorBot comes as a kit, with some assembly required. It includes the already-built chassis, carriage, and motor controller board. It also comes with a starter set of watercolor paints, paper, and a brush. Please see the FAQ below for a more detailed list of the kit contents.
You will need a recent-vintage computer (say, made within the last five years) with an available USB port. You will also need internet access to download software, instructions, and (optional) instructional videos.
To put the kit together, you'll need small and medium philips-head screwdrivers, and a sharp pair of scissors. Pre-teen and younger kids will need adult help to put it together and get started using it.

History of the project

Sylvia Todd, star of Sylvia's Super-Awesome Maker Show, came up with the idea for the WaterColorBot because she wanted to create an art robot and enter it in the RoboGames competition. She approached us at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories about collaborating on the project, and we loved it.
Together we designed and built our first prototype in February, and had a nicely-working robot about a month later. As we realized that this project had a lot of appeal beyond just a one-off project, we started developing it into a kit. Sylvia exhibited her prototype at RoboGames (and won a Silver medal), and we also brought the WaterColorBot to Maker Faire, where thousands of people got to play with it.
Sylvia was also invited to the White House Science Fair in April, where she got to demonstrate the WaterColorBot for President Obama (pictures and media coverage here).

Manufacturing the WaterColorBot

We will be manufacturing the WaterColorBot right here at our shop in Sunnyvale, California. The main chassis of the WaterColorBot is cut from American hardwood plywood using a CNC router, sanded, and finally laser engraved to provide the markings. The carriage and winches are built out of laser-cut wood. We also laser cut and machine Delrin parts, such as the cable guide. The lower "spoilboard" that holds the water, paints, and paper is machined from MDF.
Because we're manufacturing it in-house, we've been able to prototype our manufacturing processes in parallel with the design, every step of the way. We're also building on two years of experience of manufacturing our Ostrich Eggbot kit, which is also made from a combination of CNC routed and laser cut wood and Delrin parts, along with the same motion-control platform that drives the WaterColorBot.

Why Kickstarter?

We're launching the WaterColorBot on Kickstarter for a few different reasons. The most obvious reason is to finance the initial manufacturing run, but more importantly, we are really excited about the WaterColorBot and we want to help it reach as wide of an audience as possible.

Why we're excited about the watercolorbot

A young visitor plays with the WaterColorBot at Maker Faire
A young visitor plays with the WaterColorBot at Maker Faire

Beyond simple fun, we think that the WaterColorBot has enormous potential for STEM and STEAM education, especially as a way to get young people engaged with hands-on technology and robotics. We are particularly interested finding ways to inspire young women to pursue careers in science and technology. We cannot imagine any better way to do so, than starting with a robot co-designed by a 12 year old girl.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

The WaterColorBot is manufacturable and at a late stage of development, so we forsee no overall obstacles to completing the project and shipping our first units. However, our production schedule is ambitious, and could be delayed by parts availability, production time, and other factors.
From our experience manufacturing and shipping thousands of kits (such as our Deluxe Egg-Bot kit) over the past few years, we know about inventory delays, and the havoc that they can wreak upon a project. We mitigate this in a few different ways. First, thanks to Kickstarter, we will know exactly how many machines to build. This allows us to order our parts and materials early, and in the actual quantities needed. Second, most of our parts and materials are common types, for which alternate suppliers are available. Finally, the motion control platform on the WaterColorBot (the motor and controller combination) is the same one that we already use in our Egg-Bot kits, for which we have already established reliable supply chains.
There are other things that could potentially delay shipment-- for example a truly unavoidable chip shortage at the manufacturer level. We will be in close contact with our backers should anything of this nature occur, and will do our best to work around any problems as needed.
We have had the experience of backing projects on Kickstarter, with both stellar and less-than-stellar outcomes. We want to ensure that the WaterColorBot ships on-time, and is a delight to use.


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