Back in 2006 - Youtube was only a year old - the adorable remotely controlled PLEN robot drew a lot of attention with its agile skating and skateboarding abilities. You'd think the exposure would result in a commercial hit but it wasn't to be. Only 200 models were made and sold. Perhaps the $2,399 price tag and the fact that Japanese company Systec Akazawa built each unit separately nipped its success in the bud.
Now the robot is making a bid for a comeback on Kickstarter as PLEN2. The younger sibling has many added features reflecting development in robotics since the mid 2000's. Most notably PLEN2 is tuned in to the maker movement with open source hard- and software, opening the way for distributed development by PLEN community members.
PLEN2 stands about 20 cm tall and has 18 joints. Its control board is Arduino compatible and the 3D data for the printable components will be open source and free of charge. Natsuo Akazawa, founder and CEO of the company behind PLEN2 claims “In addition to the open source software, we will disclose the control board's circuit diagram and the mechanical designs for the robot's parts.”
The old PLEN could be remotely controlled from a PC or a mobile phone which was quite a thing back then. PLEN2 is equally with the times sporting contemporary control methods like facial expressions, body motions, myogenic signals and brain-computer interfacing.
Systec Akazawa has since gone bankrupt (for reasons unrelated to the robot) and PLEN2 is now offered by a new entity named Plen Project Company. The company is raising capital with a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Backers can opt for an $699 assembly kit (early bird), or a more hands-on kit that requires 3D printing for $499. With $33,332 in pledges at time of writing and 47 days to go, it is likely the PLEN2 project is going to make it.
Image: The first PLEN. Source: japantrendshop.com