BristleBots

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At the New York Toy Fair, Scholastic unveiled a new book and kit by Klutz entitled Invasion of the BristleBots, with the tagline "Part Robot! Part Toothbrush?" It has the components for a child to assemble two BristleBots, which are tiny robots made from a toothbrush, a watch battery, and a vibrating pager motor. What fun! See, I've encountered BristleBots before. In fact, YouTube has a raft of videos featuring homemade BristleBots. They skitter around like insects on amphetamines until you giggle yourself silly. It all started on December 19th, 2007 when Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories posted instructions for making this tiny robot they called a BristleBot. The accompanying video was well worth sitting through the technical aspects to see the little booger in action.

The BristleBot became an internet sensation, and the videos began to roll in.

Fourteen months later, reporters from several toy and gadget blogs noticed the BristleBots kit at the toy fair, and were delighted to see Windell Oskay's creation enshrined in a Scholastic offering. But neither Windell, nor evil mad partner Lenore Edman, nor Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories were mentioned anywhere in the book or kit. This discrepancy was noted by Make, DVICE, and Engadget among others. The folks at EMSL were justifiably hurt. Windell and Lenore are open source proponents who publish ideas and encourage others to try them and even improve upon them, but to see their idea for sale on Amazon with no attribution is a kick in the head.

Klutz released a statement on Scholastic's blog detailing how and when the BristleBots were developed. Bloggers weren't buying it. It's just too much to believe the exact same idea and the exact same name arose independently in the same year. A promotional video for the Klutz kit was even posted as a response to the original EMSL BristleBot instruction video. Within a few days, Lenore finally spoke with Pat Murphy, BristleBot developer at Klutz. In an updated response on Scholastic's site and at Klutz, Murphy admitted no wrongdoing, but said that the second printing of the book will include acknowledgment of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories. Whether this is enough to save Klutz's reputation in the blogosphere is another matter. Many EMSL fans and robotics geeks are vowing to buy only the second printing of the kits.

Invasion of the BristleBots is available to pre-order from Amazon for $19.95. Or you can make your own for the cost of the components.

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February 23, 2009 - 3:25am
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