Rapiro – the cutest robot you’ll ever meet, now on Kickstarter

A new Kickstarter was launched this morning: check out the video first, and then I’ll tell you about what we’ve seen first-hand of the project.

We met Shota Ishiwatari at the three-day Raspberry Jam in Tokyo in May. He’s an established inventor of very, very cool stuff – you may have read about his Nekomimi cat ears, which were featured all over the internet when they came out last year. These ears have a 14-point electroencephalography sensor that presses against your forehead; they’re operated by your brainwaves, and lie flat, twitch or perk up in line with your emotions. Here’s a short video in case you’ve not seen them before:

And here’s some British lady wearing a pair. They really do work. No video, thank God. You can buy a set at Nekomimi.com.

Shota-san has real skill in getting that very special sort of Japanese cuteness (there’s even a word for it: かわいい, or kawaii) combined with tech. He does all the technical development, CAD and physical modelling, circuit design and building, programming (and sewing, in the case of Nekomimi) himself. His current Kickstarter is Rapiro, (RAspberryPIRObot), and it’s quite the most かわいい thing I’ve ever seen. Rapiro had his first public outing at a hardware breakout session at the Tokyo Jam.

You’ll notice that the prototype we’re playing with here is not the same as the one in the Kickstarter video; after the event we got Shota-san sorted out with a camera board in time for the Kickstarter. Rapiro’s not just cute: he’s very adaptable. He’s voice activated (and he can be set to recognise and respond to only his owner’s voice), or, with a wifi or bluetooth dongle, he can be controlled with a phone or gaming handset. He’s a connected device, so he can alert you to emails or Facebook messages; he can manage your calendar and work as a sort of very cute secretary/butler, bringing you objects from around the house and reminding you about meetings. Away from home for the week? Walk him around the house and use the camera in his forehead to monitor what’s going on: Rapiro makes a great security droid. He can even water your plants for you while you’re away. And with an IR LED, he can act as a remote control for your TV, or turn on your air conditioning if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where it’s needed.

And because the technology is Pi-based, Rapiro will, if it makes its Kickstarter goals, be much less expensive than currently available equivalents. Shota-san says that at the retail price he’s set, Rapiro works out at 1/4th the price of current aesthetic robot kits, and 1/10th the price of current Linux-powered humanoid robot kits.

The prototype we got to see worked perfectly. We’ve already ordered a unit for the Foundation, which we’re going to be using in schools and other teaching workshops. We think robotics is a really powerful way to get young people interested in physical computing, and we think Rapiro is the most engaging and inviting example of Pi-based robotics we’ve seen yet. This is a Kickstarter we’re very exited about.

Many thanks to Yuriko Ikeda for the photographs (thank you very much for the homemade umeboshi too, Yuriko-san, and for the recipe!)