Roy Barazani is the rare type of person that I want to personally meet and congratulate on his ingenious product idea. His product, The OFFBITS, is a line of open-source robots that encourages users to add their own stray upcycled hardware components.
Originally designed with “unused and unloved” bits and pieces, the ‘build-it-yourself’ kits can be expanded, redesigned and reengineered based on whichever spare hardware a user might have laying around.
Of course, something as cool as these little upcycled robots deserve their own backstory, too – and Barazani has certainly delivered:
“The OFFBITS had been exiled from their home planet – Planet Bot, after a mysterious malfunction gave them adventurous and super-creative personalities – which caused major bugs in the Planet’s great algorythm of absolute boredom.
BigBot, the fearsome ruler of Planet Bot had all of the OFFBITS disassembled and cast into the great recycle bin of destiny…Which turned out to be a portal to earth and its many tinkering fingers…”
We had the chance to catch up with Barazani to find out more about where the idea came from and how he went about developing the concept into a usable product.
SS: Where did the idea for OFFBITS originally come from?
Barazani: I guess I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of re-design. Even as a child I used to break my toys apart and try to rebuild them in new and different ways. Looking back, this allowed me to develop my imagination and ability to fantasize.
The OFFBITS started out from playing with random parts I found in my toolbox while working on an exercise before starting my design studies in college. Suddenly I found I had made a little robot! I kept this idea with me during my studies, and for my final project built a whole city of them made from recycled parts. It was really well received and I knew I had a great idea in my hands. It took a few years of development and testing in Maker Faire events and boutique design stores and now I finally feel they are ready for the world.
SS: Why do you think both kids and adults are already drawn to OFFBITS?
Barazani: I see The OFFBITS as a new way of playing with toys, an “open-source” platform with no rules so each creation can be as unique as the one who built it – I love the way people can take the original design and then make something completely different. Also, the fact it is made of components we all have around us means there are no cost or availability limits to what people can do with them – instead of just waiting for the kits we are encouraging our fans and KickStarter supporters to already start making their own creations and of course share them with us and the rest of the budding community of OFFBITS Creators.
SS: What were some of the more challenging aspects of bring the concept to a developed product stage?
Barazani: From a design perspective, working with standard hardware components brought many unique challenges. For example, choosing the right mix of bits in the kits (both functionally and aesthetically) required a lot of trial-and-error type work, and then of course there is the issue of connecting parts that weren’t designed to fit together – I’m especially proud of the custom connectors we came up with! But the biggest challenge is still ahead: fostering an engaged community that creates, shares and inspires other people (and us as well!) to do the same. This is one of the reasons we decided to launch on KickStarter – a community of involved early-adopters eager to share their feedback and take part in creating something new and valuable.
One of the exciting additions we’ve made to the new generation of OFFBITS kits that we’re launching with this campaign are “Vehicle Extension Packs” that allow you to come up with crazy wheeled contraptions. I’ve attached sneak previews of some of the models still under development!
SS: What was your guiding principle for the OFFBITS design?
Barazani: My guiding principle for OFFBITS design is to stick as much as possible to the original components and their functionality in order to keep it as an “open source” concept that anyone can participate in, so when working on a new design I will always try to go in the direction in which the parts fit together easily by design. It’s always really amazing to me how you can take an everyday object like a simple nut, but then by painting it and putting it at the end of a spring suddenly it really transforms to become a “foot” on a “leg”! But sometimes there’s a challenging combination I really want in the kits, and then I’ll start exploring the possibility of re-designing the parts through tooling, sculpting, or even creating a custom connector piece tailor-made for the purpose – and then of course I must think about new forms and ways to create with it.
SS: Can you tell us more about the nitty-gritty aspects of the design process?
Barazani: Most of the design work is old fashioned hands-on prototyping – so all I have to do is go to local hardware shops for interesting looking components, and then just start playing! But once there’s a cool concept we want to move forward with, it helps to go digital (via photoshop, autocad, 3d printing, etc.) where the forms can be manipulated, mixed, and matched before production. Although the main challenge is always to bring out the most possibilities of the parts’ design while staying as loyal as possible to the original form and function, moving from prototype to finished product can definitely be tricky – for example, since we use many different materials with many different finishes (from stainless steel to ABS plastic), getting them all uniformly painted was quite a pain in the beginning… but the more kits we make the more perfect our process becomes so I’m really happy our campaign has been doing so well.
Although they are thankfully already funded, Barazani and the rest of the OFFBITS team currently have less than three days left to go in their Kickstarter campaign – so go get yours! While there are different options for an OFFBITS Starter Kit, you can get it on the ground floor for just $18.