This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of 425 Business.
Today, Robodub makes games, but the company wants its RC tech to be used in other arenas, too
Robodub CEO Parminder Devsi is bringing his two childhood passions — cars and robotics — together by gamifying robots and drones.
Devsi and the Robodub team have created a remote control car operated with a PlayStation 4 controller. The car’s 3D-printed body, which takes 42 hours to produce, is nearly indestructible, and its complex wheels enable side-to-side movement. Devsi said the car is massively over-built for its current capabilities, though he does enjoy testing it by navigating down the concrete stairs outside his Kirkland office.
Breaking into the robotics industry has traditionally been a pricey endeavor. But now that 3D printing and electronics are more affordable and battery technology has improved, the barrier to entry for robotics is eroding.
“We’re able to create a complex shape that previously only big companies were able to do,” Devsi said. “Now I can compete directly with any big company.”
Robodub is bringing video games to life with robotic cars affixed with high-definition cameras and laser shooters. Soon, Robodub’s cars will communicate with its patent-protected drones. But first: video games.
“Gaming is just the low-hanging fruit,” Devsi said. “This is just a platform. The sky is the limit, because this is a computer and not just a remote-controlled car. Whatever technology we figure out with the robot, we will apply to our drones.”
Robodub’s car is not just a beefed-up RC toy. Upcoming models implement facial recognition, which will allow for personalized greetings. The camera and Internet connectivity allow the operator to control the car when it is out of sight. Controller malfunction? A Robodub car can be operated with Twitter commands. Robodub is testing a new camera that would measure distance and enable the car to avoid collisions instead of altering course only after it has run into something.
Add some sensors, and the car could turn into a fire alarm, sense a gas leak, provide unmanned security, or become a robotic version of the office dog, complete with personalized greetings, synchronized lightshow, and rhythmic movement set to music.
The company began in September 2014, when Devsi presented his idea to a panel of judges at Seattle Entrepreneurship Club’s startup week. All he had at the time was a concept and the wheels. His presentation caught the attention of Intel, which offered its new Edison chip and paved the way to Maker Faire, a part-science fair, part-craft fair held in San Francisco and New York City to showcase tech enthusiasts, tinkerers, and engineers. Devsi had been in contact with Intel earlier to request use of the chip, and his hackathon presentation sealed the deal.
“Every maker’s dream is to go to Maker Faire,” Devsi said. “It was a very intense experience.”
Devsi was accepted to Maker Faire in February. The event was in May, just two and a half months later, and Devsi still had to build a beefed-up remote control car, an arena, and a cloud platform from which to broadcast the game worldwide.
“All these (large) companies care about is promoting their products. If your business is aligned with theirs, they will help you,” Devsi said. “This is how we did so much progress in a short amount of time. I couldn’t have done it without Intel. It was a strategic partnership that didn’t happen randomly.”
Two days before Maker Faire, Devsi’s team received the 3D-printed shells for the robots, and they drove to San Francisco without testing the fully assembled car. That test came one hour before the show was to open — and the assembled vehicles didn’t work. Some quick troubleshooting revealed that the shell of the car was secured too tightly against the wheels, preventing movement and simultaneously causing a surge of energy from the battery that blew the fuse.
Once the problem was determined, the shells were adjusted and the presentation started on time without another hitch.
“Because we’re a startup, people wonder if we can deliver or not,” Devsi said. “That experience showed we had the technical expertise, and because Intel is behind us, buyers are confident in our product and ability to deliver.”
Even with his company’s commercial success to this point — two of the company’s $50,000 game sets are under construction at Flatstick Pub in Seattle and Virtual Sports in Tukwila — Devsi wants to continue developing intellectual property and prototypes to license to other companies.
“We don’t want to be just a commercial company. I hope we can inspire people to make really cool products that are useful for society,” Devsi said.