A lot of the previous blog posts have focused on the powertrain or electronics of Dash, or even his app, but not much about the chassis itself. This is really where a lot of the magic happens though. The chassis gives Dash his shape and his movement. It's what makes the robot so "lifelike," or "creepy" according to some. Now that the chassis design is officially patent pending, I'd like to share some more details about its development.
We've been doing a LOT of work on the chassis since the crowdfunding campaign closed in October. At that time, Dash had a single motor, couldn't steer, and took one of us about an hour to put together, with a lot of special tools, super glue, and frustration. Now? Dash carries two motors to steer around with, takes a 10 year old about 45 minutes to put together with no tools and just Elmer's glue, and can be assembled by one of us in less than 10 minutes. It's also much, much tougher. We used to see joints break all the time, now we have not had a joint failure in months (knock on wood) despite building dozens of robots and putting a lot of mileage on them.
How did we do this? Iteration. Evolution. I'd estimate that Dash has seen about 40 revisions (!) to get to where he is now. A few of those revisions were more revolutions than evolutions really. But the most important thing we can do to move the design forward is testing. We've had around 100 kids build a Dash chassis, and the results get a little bit better each time. Science museums and schools serve as great testing grounds for us, and have graciously allowed us to teach a mini-class on Dash and robotics, that also lets us test out the assembly process. We're now doing one classroom test per week. This gives us time to run the test, get feedback, change the design, change the instructions, make new kits, and start all over again. We also bring Dash to events for kids to play with him, so we can test the app, and learn what they like about Dash.
We've had successful events at Stanford, the Children's Creativity Museum, Lawrence Hall of Science, and schools in Berkeley, the East Bay, and soon Silicon Valley. Dash's chassis is 95% finished, and we're pushing hard for that last 5%. When we get there, you'll see it here.