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DJ Sures was tinkering with his homemade toy robot when his grandfather gave him some advice. If he could make it possible for the average person to build robotics without needing much technical expertise, the older man suggested, he'd have a solid business idea. Turns out he was onto something, When Sures posted a video of one of his creations, a real-life recreation of Pixar's Wall-E robot, it got picked up by popular tech website Engadget. Although he didn't yet have a completed product for sale, the newly minted EZ-Robot website got so much traffic that its server crashed.
What makes Sures' product so innovative (and so desirable) is that it's highly flexible and can be used by everyone, from a reasonably clever 10-year-old to a highly trained software engineer. The EZ-Robot kit comes with the basic hardware necessary to build a robot and with flexible, graphically interfaced software that allows users to program their robot for tasks like facial recognition or navigating obstacles, without needing to learn computer coding. More technically inclined users have the option of installing scripts for more advanced features, or coding their robot completely from scratch.
Alan Campbell, EZ-Robot's manager of operations, says he's seen customers come up with a wide range of applications, from the common personal robotic toys to more practical applications, like a wheelchair user who built a robotic arm to increase his mobility. "We're just trying to empower people to build the robot of their dreams," he says. "A lot of people have an idea of what a robot should be, and up until now it's been impossible to build something that powerful."
Sures and Campbell have expanded EZ-Robot into a community where users can share their configuration files as well as three-dimensional plans for components, meaning they could be made using 3-D printers. That means the robots are almost infinitely adaptable, limited only by the imaginations of those building them. And while EZ-Robot is popular with consumers, it's not just for individuals.
EZ- Robot's long-term business strategy is creating partnerships with other businesses who build products using the technology they've created. "Think of Intel in the computer world - you have Intel inside Macs and Windows [PCs], powering these devices. We want EZ-Robot to do the same thing." The company is exploring partnerships with businesses in a variety of sectors, including toys, video games and assistance for those with disabilities.
Sures has also created robotic versions of cookie monster and Teddy Ruxpin, as well as a functional dalek, the villainous cyborg race from Doctor Who.