I recently read God in the Machine, an interesting and provocative book by Dr. Anne Foerst. In it, she talks about golems and how these mythical creatures are brought to life by humans to do good. At about the same time as I was reading this book, I began helping at an after-school coding program at a local library where we use Scratch and MakeyMakey to teach students how to built Lego robots.
I posted a video of one of the robots in action and on Instagram and @WevolverApp liked it, so out of curiosity I checked out their profile: "Wevolver connects makers to disruptive open hardware like robots, 3D printers and drones to help democratize the way products get developed!" Intrigued, I started following them on Twitter and eventually learned about a project they are working on called Robots for Good. I was immediately captivated. What they are doing closely resembles the golems mentioned in Foerst’s book!
The Robots for Good website proclaims: "Let’s give hospitalized kids superpowers." Who wouldn’t want to do just that? Nothing melted my heart faster than the their homepage, which is a picture of of a robot mirroring a child’s pointing finger and the words: "InMoov lets hospitalized children visit the zoo."
"The Inmoov Challenge is set out to build a 3D printed human size robot that hospitalized children can remote control from their bed," the website reads. "It allows them to explore and interact with the outside world using virtual reality. The goal is to have a full working robot in 12 months that can go to the zoo with the hospitalized child’s friends and interact with the people and animals.” (Watch the YouTube video.)
In addition to doing good, the project's 3D printed, open source, and educational nature caught my attention. So, I reached out and landed this interview with Richard Hulskes, co-founder of Wevolver. He currently lives in London, where the office is based, and before Wevolver, was co-founder of a Dutch 3D printing company that connects the maker industry in the Netherlands. Richard tells me what Wevolver is up to at the moment, which includes collaborating with the e-NABLE project, a group of makers creating open design files and prosthetic hands for children.
What is Wevolver?
Wevolver is a web platform that connects makers to open source hardware projects like 3D printers, drones, robotics, and even automotives. It's our mission to allow makers to turn their ideas into reality and change the way products are developed—you could call us a GitHub for hardware. We launched last summer and are currently in beta stage, testing our functionality with a small group of project owners.
Wevolver came to be because my co-founder, Bram Geenen, had a design studio in the Netherlands that was producing 3D printed furniture. One of his goals was to share all the documentation of his project and collaborate with highly-specialized people. We had lots of discussions about how to achieve this, and that's how I got involved: to see if we could create this repository for hardware projects.
What is Robots for Good?
Robots for Good is a spinoff of two projects on Wevolver, the Inmoov Robot and OpenWheels. The Inmoov project was already quite big when we heard about it, and we got in contact with creator Gael Langevin to see if we could help him with the documentation.
Since that time, we talked a lot with Gael and got to know his project quite well. When we went to the Maker Faire in New York with the Inmoov team, we found out that one of the community members, Kevin Watters, had created a link between the robot and virtual reality glasses. This got us thinking, and when we got back to London we got in touch with the Great Ormond Street Hospital. We decided it would be great to connect the robot to hospitalized children so they could use the robot as their personal avatar and visit the London Zoo.
The main problem is Inmoov's legs—they aren't finished yet. To solve that, we connected with the OpenWheels project, another project on Wevolver created by Boris Landoni. It's basically an open source Segway that will allow the robot to move around.
What kind of success have you had?
After we made our plans public through the RobotsforGood.com website, we got a lot of people asking about the project and willing to help. At this moment, there are already four other locations around the world trying to get the Robots for Good project of the ground.
The great thing about this is that the development team for Inmoov and OpenWheels is growing, and more and more people will start contributing to the project. The bigger the team grows, the better the robot will become.
Why open source?
For the mission, for you as the creator, and for the makers who contribute.
Because of the open nature of the project, it's relatively easy for people to pick it up and make, enhance, and tweak it. Through this project, we can show the world what open source hardware can do by connecting the right people to the right projects. The openness of the project will make it so that anybody can contribute their skills and knowledge, allowing the development of the project to go faster.
The children will benefit because the robot will cost less and be ready sooner.
For the creator of a project, it makes it much easier to build a collaborative community. It enables a product to evolve and cause others to take it in other directions. You can reach a bigger audience that is simply harder to reach if the project is closed.
For a maker, the advantages are that there is good documentation for the project and a community to help you with the process. The fact that the whole body of knowledge that is created is open and free for anybody to use makes it much more accessible to start building more complex technology.
I know that Wevolver is active on social media, and I came to learn about you because you liked one of my posts on Instagram. Do you have a defined social media strategy? How important is your social media presence to the future of your endeavors?
We are mainly active on Twitter and Instagram—that's where a lot of engineers, designers, and makers are. On these platforms, we promote the people and projects on Wevolver. The most important strategy, though, is just to have really good projects on Wevolver. Those are the ones bringing in new makers and possible contributors to projects. In the end, it's all about the quality of those projects.
A collection of articles from educators, students, advocates, parents, and more who are implementing open source in education and working toward a more open knowledge base for everyone.