CITRIS Foundry Excels at Advancing Technology from Idea to Product

One of the first projects to come through the CITRIS Foundry—Dash Robotics—has created a low-cost “origami” robot that runs fast on six legs, weighs half an ounce and can be easily built at home. Controlled with a smartphone, Dash has insect-like legs, so it can run at high speed and climb on a variety of surfaces. The robots have been developed and built within the CITRIS Foundry, a one-year program for entrepreneurs that provides access to design, manufacturing and business development tools.

Starting today (September 5), Dash is embarking on a new crowd-funding campaign, selling 1,000 of the robots for less than $70 each. The robots are shipped as a 2D kit consisting of an ultra-lightweight and durable composite of micro-thin plastic and cardboard. The kits are folded at home into a 3D bug-like shape, almost origami-style. Electronics for controlling the robots are also easy for anyone to install.
“With Dash, we’re making science and engineering simple, fun and accessible to anyone,” said Nick Kohut, co-founder of Dash Robotics. “Most educational robots today cost hundreds of dollars – that’s not realistic for most families. We are focused intensely on creating a robot that captures the imagination of young people everywhere by imitating animals in a mechanical form, and at a very affordable price. Our goal is to put a robot into everyone’s hands.”

Charles Huang, advisor to Dash Robotics and inventor of Guitar Hero, said, “Dash is a … fun learning experience at an affordable price. I am very impressed with the team’s research background at UC Berkeley and their commitment to creating great consumer robots.”

As Ph.D. students at the University of California, Berkeley, the group worked with the Foundry@CITRIS to create low-cost bio-inspired robotics.  With world-renowned biologists, the team studied principles of a broad range of animals—particularly the running movements cockroaches and lizards. They distilled their findings about the positions and movements of limbs— particularly running legs— into mechanical reality to enable their robots to function with a high degree of speed and flexibility on a variety of surfaces, just like an insect or animal.

Robot Construction
Most robots today are constructed either with hundreds of expensive injection-molded parts, or metal fastened together with steel bearings. They require an individual motor, or actuator, for each joint, making them slow, expensive and heavy. To overcome these fundamental challenges, Dash constructs its robots with a material made up of a sandwich of lightweight cardboard and super-thin polyester that is 1,000th of an inch thick.

This material is cut into miniature pieces about the size of a postage stamp, which are fastened together using flexible plastic joints, or flexures, rather than ball bearings. Because of this design approach, Dash robots require only one or two actuators – another significant reduction in cost for both prototyping and manufacturing.

This rare combination of new composite material, intelligent design and innovative manufacturing results in robots that have much greater mechanical flexibility, are much faster, are lighter in weight and can be sold at a fraction of the cost of any competitor.

Looking Ahead
While the initial Dash robots are designed to be educational tools that can help kids learn about science, technology and biology, the longer-term implications for industrial robotics are nearly limitless. Dash will continue to explore how its low-cost, high-performance robots can help solve problems across a broad number of industries including energy, search and rescue, and space exploration.