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Meet Botiful: the Skype-powered robot

Claire Delaunay’s move from Paris to Palo Alto was not motivated by dreams of entrepreneurialism, but, rather, her husband’s MBA at Stanford. The French roboticist didn’t realize she was relocating to the heart of Silicon Valley, nor did she have any plans to get into the startup game.

But a good dose of homesickness changed all that.

After spending many long hours on Skype video calls with family back in France, she still yearned for the ability to be even more interactive with them – especially her young nieces and nephews. “Humans don’t like to sit still,” Claire says, “There is no substitute for being able to move around in the environment with the people you’re speaking to.”

Originally a computer science student, she went on to work with algorithms for volcanology and later weather forecasting. But Claire was blown away when she discovered robotics. She reminisces, “I built my first robot in an apartment in Paris and found that it was the convergence of all of my scientific interests: mechanics, artificial intelligence, computer science and machine interaction with human beings.”

Prior to moving to the US, she worked with robots for military applications. Now Claire stumbled across a page for a smartphone-controlled toy on Kickstarter and started to marry that idea with some of the robotics work she had done in the past.

This was the turning point. Claire says, “I hatched the plan for a smart phone-controlled robot that can help make video calls truly interactive and – as I learned about all the excitement going on around me in Palo Alto – my husband and I decided not to go back to France.”

This was not an easy decision. She had appealing offer in France to work on military projects, but passed up on the “easy path” and took the risk to launch her own robot on Kickstarter.

Claire believes that we are at the beginning of a major expansion of robotics into our daily lives. She explains, “Robotics market expansion will not come from super smart robots able to do everything like cleaning the windows, ironing shirts and making the bed – although that would be nice. What is most likely to happen is the multiplication of small robots able to do simple tasks. They’ll be fully integrated into your home environment and your social network. Like your smartphone. And for such robots, design and usability is a must.”

She set out to make the first tele-presence robot for consumers, but also to create something simple and beautiful. After many long hours in her garage and quite a few prototypes, Claire came up with Botiful.

It works seamlessly with Skype and there’s also a Botiful SDK that developers can use to come up with their own apps and uses for the little robot.

Claire says, “Success will come from being able to manufacture Botiful in volume. Right now the hardware is still relatively expensive. Even being able to make 1000 of them at a time would make a huge difference in the cost.”

Learn more about Botiful on Kickstarter.

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