Geek holiday gift ideas: Robot roll call!

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Dec. 13 2011 12:46 PM

Geek holiday gift ideas: Robot roll call!

[NOTE: A lot of folks are posting geek holiday gift ideas, which is great! I have a few things I want to mention, so I'll be posting a few of mine as well this week. I have a bunch I'll put in one post later, but what follows here needed some pictures, so it goes in a post by itself. Enjoy!]

The other day I got an email from my friend, the appropriately-named Bob Goodman. He told me that another friend of his, Sarah Stocker, had co-founded this company called My Robot Nation -- where you can design your own little toy robot model, and then the company will create it using a 3D printer! Would I be interested in checking it out?

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Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Duh. Emails and introductions were exchanged, and Sarah -- full disclosure here -- sent me a coupon code so I could make my own little toy minion. I called down my 15-year-old proto-geek daughter, and the two of us sat in front of my computer, logged in to My Robot Nation, and started playing with the robot design web interface.

It was fun! It was also pretty easy to get the hang of it. You can choose among many different styles of heads, bodies, and lower portions (legs, treads, and so on) as well as decorations (flames!), eyes, other accouterments (a jetpack!), and then finally colors. It took us about a half hour all told -- punctuated with us saying things like "Cool!" and "Oh, that's awesome" -- and when we were satisfied, we submitted it.

A few days later, in the mail arrived... Chip!

Isn't he adorable? He stands about 6.5 cm (2.5 inches) tall, so he's not huge. However, different sizes are available up to 15 cm (6"). The robots are made of gypsum powder and a binding agent, and have a high-impact plastic feel. The 3D printer builds them up millimeter by millimeter, so there's a lot of detail -- we put flames on the side of Chip's treads, and they look really cool. The colors are pretty much just as they were displayed when we designed Chip, too.

Again, I'll note that Sarah at My Robot Nation gave me a coupon, so Chip was free. However, if I didn't really like this product (and process!) I wouldn't write about it, and designing Chip was just as much fun as getting him in the mail. This truly is a very cool idea, and I know a lot of geeks on my holiday gift list who would love this. In fact, I think this would make a great last-minute gift; you can buy a gift code for someone, present it to them on your holiday of choice, and then they can create the robot at their leisure. This is a great way to share your geekery with a loved one, and help indoctrinate introduce them to the Geek Way.