How it Works: Making Injection Molds for Bo & Yana’s Parts

How it Works: Making Injection Molds for Bo & Yana’s Parts

As part of our crowdfunding journey, we are inviting you and your kids to take a look behind the scenes to see how Bo & Yana are made. The first major step of the manufacturing process after we finalized electrical and mechanical designs is tooling! Before we explain what tooling is, here’s a video about how each part in Bo & Yana is made in our factory.

    1. Plastic pellets go into the hopper of the machine, which sends them into the injection system.
    2. The plastic is heated, melted, and squeezed together so that it can be pushed into a mold that is in the shape of each robot part.
    3. The plastic is cooled and ejected into a bucket. From there, it will be assembled into the final robot!

Just like stencils or cookie cutters help you quickly make shapes, injection molds help us quickly make robot parts! We need to make thousands of robots each month, and building the right foundation will make sure robots can be produced efficiently with consistent quality.

How it Works: Making Injection Molds for Bo & Yana’s Parts

This is the machine in our factory. Do you see the hopper? It is shaped like a funnel.

Right now we are making over 100 injection molds that will help us make all the parts that go into Bo & Yana. And tooling is the process of making the molds. Check out this video to see how injection molds are made!

A lot of time and work goes into building each mold, and the entire process takes 2 months. In fact, Mikal and Vikas, two founders of Play-i, will be in China next week making sure each mold is perfect so that Bo & Yana come out just right.

How it Works: Making Injection Molds for Bo & Yana’s Parts

Here’s an example of an injection mold and the part that it made!

We were really floored by the kind words of encouragement and enthusiasm you sent us after we shared our manufacturing schedule. Thank you so much for being amazing customers, and we know your kids are eagerly waiting for the robots to arrive. We encourage you to share this post and videos with them over the weekend so they can learn about how robot parts, and many other things in their lives, are made!

Announcing Shipping Dates for Bo & Yana

Many of you have been asking when Bo & Yana will be shipped to you. We’ve started the bulk of our manufacturing process and are ready to announce our schedule. Building a robot that is fun, safe, and durable has taken a bit longer than we expected. Here’s a handy infographic that shows all the steps that go into getting Bo & Yana to you.

Announcing Shipping Dates for Bo & Yana

Right now we are in the middle of tooling, which is a 2-month process during which we’ll build over 100 machine molds needed to make all the parts that go into Bo & Yana. Our first shipments will go out in order of backer number* starting on October 11. It takes about a week to get to your doorstep from our factory, so you’ll be receiving your robots shortly after we ship.

This date is later than the Summer 2014 date we originally announced, and we sincerely apologize for the delay. There were still a lot of unknowns after our crowdfunding campaign, and we worked hard to finalize our schedule with our manufacturers to ship as early as possible. The hardest part of the process has been balancing our desire to produce robots that meet our incredibly high standards while meeting our delivery goal of this summer. Since several key improvements have been made since our original prototypes, we were forced to make sacrifices on the schedule.

Mechanical & Electrical Design – revisions for production

The first step of the process is taking the electrical and mechanical designs in our prototype and making them work in production. We worked closely with the engineers at our manufacturing site to test and revise the designs, which took a little longer than we expected. We made lots of revisions to our prototype, and you’ll be getting a better and more powerful robot as a result.

Most notably, the following changes were made:

  • New motors and custom gearboxes on Bo, making it faster and stronger on a variety of different surfaces.
  • Battery life improvements due to both a battery upgrade and reduced power consumption.
  • Increased processing power and memory on the robots so that they can store and execute more programs at the same time.

These and many other improvements will make the play and learning experience of Bo & Yana a lot better!

Engineering pilot tests

We are being conservative in scheduling multiple rounds of engineering prototype tests so that we can make sure that Bo & Yana are in tip top shape in terms of reliability, durability, and safety. We hold ourselves to high standards of quality and want to ship a product we know you’ll love.

Some extra goodies

These new features didn’t play a role in pushing back the date, but we are excited to share them with you since they were added on after the crowdfunding campaign. Bo used to have one microphone. We replaced it with 3 microphones, so Bo now knows what direction sounds are coming from. This allows you to program Bo to come to you when you call it and face you when you are talking to it!

When designing our play experience, we thought of many exciting new uses for Yana. We added 3 more buttons to the top of Yana so that you can do a lot more programming with it too! There are also now 12 LEDs in Bo & Yana’s eye instead of sixteen because twelve is a better number for fractions, and the eye can be programmed to be a clock.

We are thinking every day about how to improve the learning and play experience and can’t wait to start showing you our iPad/Android interfaces! We take our commitment and promises to you very seriously. We also want to be transparent about the progress we’re making, so at the end of each week I’ll post a recap of where we are. Please feel free to email us over at support@play-i.com if you have any questions or concerns at all.

 

*Your backer number was shown on the confirmation screen when you ordered. If you’d like to find out what it is, please contact us directly!

7 Principles of Play-i Interaction Design

Every day, we’re designing different parts of the play and learning experience with multiple people on the team. It’s important to have principles that everyone from engineers to product managers to designers always abide by in every decision they make. We are sharing our 7 principles of Play-i interaction design with you so that you can get a sense of how we think.

7 Principles of Play i Interaction Design

1. Quick Access

We want to make it easy to start playing. Children should be able to get from anywhere in the application to the play experience as directly as possible. The different parts (or themes) of our application should be easily distinguishable, and navigation should be intuitive. When children start the app or go to a different part of the app, they return to where they last left off. The quicker the better.

2. Interactive

We make sure that children are always in control of their destiny, creating their own pathway regardless of how we intend it to be. Every interaction should play a part in creating a narrative or building something of their own. Passive experiences like video should be secondary to more immersive concepts. Building trust and respect through interaction is the foundation for building a relationship between children and the robots.

3. Robot Weird

Robots are already really strange. We are creating a new level of weird that is one step above what people expect so that they are constantly surprised and engaged. Weird drives curiosity, laughter, and interest in the unknown.

4. Discovery

Children will play in a world of unknown elements and are free to open up new possibilities at any time. The joy that discovery brings about is rewarding and allows them to gain a new level of confidence.

5. Challenge

Challenge is all about striking the right balance between being too easy and too hard. Finding that balance is key in driving an enjoyable experience whether the goal is to play, program, or both!

6. Surprise

Surprises bring about joy, excitement, and success. Something unexpected might happen when children accomplish something great or when they make a “mistake.” We use it sparingly so that surprises do not become dull.

7. Never Ending

From multifunction buttons and systems to ever-changing content, the idea of “never ending” comes in many forms. It is central to making experiences new every time and re-playable.

We think adhering to these principles will make playing with Bo & Yana fun and educational for hours on end. So what do you think? We welcome any comments, feedback, or input!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We Launched Our Alpha Dev API

Happy St. Patrick’s day from our office (and Bo) to yours!

Happy St. Patricks Day! We Launched Our Alpha Dev API

What could be better than leprechauns, four-leafed clovers, and treasure at the end of rainbows? We are launching our developer API headers to our Alpha developers! We’re excited to hear feedback about the API and see what developers plan on doing with it. If you’re in our developer program and would like an early sneak peek, please email me at june@play-i.com.

For everyone else, check out these new and improved technical specifications that we put together that show exactly what Bo & Yana will be able to do.

 

Announcing: Play-i Raises Series A Funding!

We are officially announcing that we’ve raised our Series A round of funding! We are happy to be working with great investors, Madrona Venture Group and Charles River Ventures, on our mission to bring learning and play to millions of children around the world. To date, we’ve raised $9 million of funding, $8 million of which is from this most recent round.

Your contribution to our crowdfunding campaign will go directly towards bringing Bo & Yana to you. Building robots actually costs more than you might think. We’re using funds from our latest round to hire a great team that will build our software platform and make sure you get hundreds of hours of play out Bo & Yana.

Know someone great or want to join us? Apply here!

Announcing: Play i Raises Series A Funding!

The Engineering Behind Making Robots Dance

Written by our software engineer, Kevin Liang.

Since our crowdfunding campaign 2 months ago, the engineering team has been heads down working on our software platform API for tablet devices. One of the use cases for the API is to provide a way for people to program Bo & Yana using visual animations. We decided it would be fun to make robots dance using the popular animation tool Maya. In this first (of many to come) tech blog articles, we are sharing how we’ve solved the engineering challenges that we faced.

Here is the official version of Bo & Yana dancing to a song you just might recognize, filmed/edited by the amazing students at Palo Alto High School:

The Challenge: Making Robots Dance

While our creative team was busy trying to come up with some sweet robot dance moves, the engineers got to work on building this demo, which has three major components:

  1. Write a Maya parser to convert animation data into a set of sequential robot commands that describe complex actions to be performed at specified time intervals.
  2. Design the API to convert the command sequence into instructions carried out by Bo & Yana.
  3. Create the final app that will synchronize the dance routine with the song.

Step 1: Building a Maya Animation Parser

We built a parser for Maya because it’s a very popular 3D animation tool, and we had been using it extensively to simulate Bo & Yana’s personality traits and actions. Maya represents its animations as a sequence of frames over the entire animation period (30 frames per second in our case). Each frame describes the state of the animated object for that given point in time. The 30th frame, for instance, will contain all the output values of the robot on the 1st second of the animation.

While most static animation data (like color and lights) can be easily translated, converting robot movements from Maya data is much more complicated. Since Maya expresses movement as a series of object coordinates/angles rather than motion curves, it does not match with how we normally control Bo’s movements, which uses power as motor input. But it was fun for us to exercise our trigonometry and vector math muscles to translate these spatial coordinate/angle data points into motor power curves.

The Engineering Behind Making Robots Dance

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Step 2: Creating a “Robot Action” API

The concept of representing animation through a sequence of frames is very expressive and is widely used in many other applications (video, films, etc). We decided to use this concept to express complex actions for Bo & Yana as well. Developers can now create a “wiggle for 1 second” action, for instance, for Bo through a sequence of robot states and also represent even more complex actions by stitching together existing actions! We used this design to choreograph the Harlem Shake dance routine.

Step 3: Putting it All Together

Once we had the command sequence and the parser completed, it was time to put it all together.  While everything was supposed to work, in theory, we were a little anxious to see this come to life. We put a lot of stress on the iPad to:

  • Play the song
  • Control 3 robots in sync by sending 30 instructions per second to each robot
  • Process Yana’s accelerometer data in real time. Yana’s role was to start/pause the dance sequence every time you shake it.

With all this heavy computation, the iPad Air we used was processing ~15% slower than what we needed.  Optimizing the dispatch_queue and system level timers, we were able to improve the performance within ~3% of our desired process rate!

Here is our very first, unedited harlem shake dance sequence, complete with shake detection to start/pause the routine:

At the end of the two weeks, we got the job done and had a lot of fun during the process, from whiteboarding solutions to making performance optimizations on iOS. In the coming months, we will be putting a lot more work into designing the robot interface API. We are excited to see how third party developers will use our API to make our robots do even more wonderful, creative things!

If you like what we are doing and want to join us to shape the way children lean, and play with robots all day, we’d love to talk to you!  Please check out our career page for more information.