Robi the Robot is adorably tiny—just over a foot tall and a touch over two pounds. But despite his small stature, he’s got a vocabulary of 270 words (all in Japanese at the moment), and he’s able to understand most of them when people speak to him. His eyes change color to indicate his “emotional” state, and he can sure throw it down on the dance floor. The most unique characteristic of Robi, though, is how he’s built. DeAgostini, a publishing and media group, has been selling a magazine that each week contains another part of the robot. The 70th and final Robi-related issue hits the stands this June, and with that, readers will have all the pieces necessary to construct their own robots.
The magazine began distributing Robi parts last February, for about $20 a pop. So far, DeAgostini has made over $83 million in Japan alone through the magazine sales. You have to wonder if anyone’s actually reading it, or if they’re all just buying it for the parts.
Robi was designed by University of Tokyo professor and engineer Tomotaka Takahashi, who also designed Kirobo, the first robot in space. Kirobo is currently hanging out and conversing with astronauts on the ISS.
Robi shares some of Kirobo’s abilities, as well as a physical likeness. It can turn 360 degrees and will rotate in the direction of any sound detected by the microphones in his ears. Robi also has an infrared emitter, so he can be used to control your television should you lose your conventional remote. Takahashi admits that Robi “has no practical function, except the pleasure of those who share their time with him,” and that instead, the robot is more about interaction, basic communication, and the display of appropriate emotions.
The serial approach to robot building is a new one. It’s a great ploy to get people to buy a magazine, and like serial television shows, it requires a commitment to see it through to the end. What’s the point of buying half of the magazines and then stopping? I don’t know how much it would cost to buy a complete, off-the-shelf version of Robi, but it’s probably pretty comparable to buying the robot in $20 increments. I can see readers getting more and more excited as the pieces start coming together. What I’m not sure of, though, is how difficult the assembly ultimately is, especially when it comes to circuitry and the “brain” of the robot. Still, I have no doubt that readers will figure it out, and perhaps they’ll be even more proud and excited about owning a robot than they would have otherwise been. Regardless, robot parts are a lot better than the samples of perfume and lotion that come with most magazines.