Electronic design considerations for Kickstarting a robot
John Hayes posted on April 02, 2013 | 6833 views

Fritz is an educational robot puppet that achieves an excellent interpretation of human facial expressions using only 13 motions. The device is controlled from a simple interface that allows the user to make changes on their computer screen that control movement in the robot puppet.

The designers really thought through their electronics design. See more background on the Fritz project in this post.

A Kickstarter project has to be simple to build. "While Kickstarter 101 tells you how to do a lot about the marketing of a Kickstarter, it's not technical," according to Kerwin. He pointed out that there isn't any knowledge base that tells you how to build a prototype in your garage, with a detailed BOM and manufacturing that can scale to 5,000 units.

Kerwin had some experience with an earlier successful Kickstarter campaign, creating the "Desktop Ballista" and raising $24,000.

That device leveraged an ancient siege weapon design to shoot toothpicks. It also required some hand drilling and assembly, which can be a bit painful if you have to fill a lot of orders.

So for the Fritz project, the team wanted to stick with off-the-shelf electronics components. That decision avoided other problems, such as the time that would have been required to get non-standard units produced, and the minimum order size for custom parts.

In terms of the components selected, Arduino was core. They would have liked to use a more advanced solution that would allow audio within the robot rather than on the computer speakers. For example, the Digilent chipKIT Uno32 would do that job and has a great interface. But the price point and accessibility decided in favor of Arduino Uno R3 for this first iteration. You can see the rest of the BOM here.

Kerwin and Steven found that most of the cost was in the motors and the electronics. For the prototypes, the components were sourced from the usual online sources like Digikey, Mouser, Sparkfun, Future Electronics, et al.

For the production BOM, they negotiated pricing based on their minimum volumes and got a costed BOM that would allow the project to be profitable. Kerwin and Steven found that to get to that pricing level, you need to get in front of an actual sales rep.

For manufacturing, they wanted to keep to a few simple steps:

  1. Laser cut the MDF body parts
  2. Assemble the components
  3. Package and ship

Following this approach the team will be ready for the orders when they start rolling in! If the project achieves its goal of $25,000, they will build and ship 100s of Fritzen (sp?) for hobbyists across the country.

To see more about the design considerations, here is a virtual tear-down of Fritz.

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