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Intel's Singing, Dancing Robot Makes a Curtain Call

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"Jimmy" was introduced at CE Week in New York City.

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Meet Jimmy, the 3D-printed robot. He's a lovable little guy, who can sing, dance and Tweet, and his valuable skill set can be yours for the low price of $1,600 (not including 3D printer and printing supplies). That's what we're being told by Brian David Johnson, Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) resident futurist -- a job title that, I imagine, also entails a certain amount of singing, dancing, and tweeting.
 
But you may have already met Jimmy. Intel actually debuted its robot at last month's Re/code Conference. The chipmaker has been pushing hard into both hobby electronics with its Edison line of systems-on-a-chip, and 3D printing through investments in several 3D marketplaces. The use cases of both technologies are still being explored, and David is here to tell us about one potentiality -- personalized, D-I-Y robots.
 
His presentation was lighthearted; at one point we were told that the two cardinal rules of robot-building are 1) a robot needs to have a cape, and 2) a robot must be able to fart. The humor was pointed, in the sense that Jimmy was purposely built for fun and not productivity. "By design, the hands don't work."
 
More serious is Intel's mission to make itself into more than a semiconductor company. Jimmy is a combination of silicon -- the budget version is powered by Edison, while a Core i5 sits in the $16,000 model -- and middleware, such as APIs for software developers.



Intel is putting its weight behind an open-source approach, and trying to build a coalition that includes industrial partners -- Jimmy was co-designed with Trossen Robotics -- and developer groups like the "maker" community.
 
Will this effort pay dividends, or end up as a footnote in the toy and hobby markets? Open-endedness is a powerful but unpredictable thing; perhaps Intel felt that it needed a moonshot. In any event, it's not an dissimilar approach to the one the company is taking with the PC industry, where an absence of strong leadership from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has forced Intel to step up and lead, through collaborations like the Ultrabook initiative as well as through more direct means like subsidies for tablet-makers.
 
Yesterday, Intel's Joel Hoffman spoke of the connected car as "an opportunity to get the whole industry working together." That seems to be the party line at Brian Krzanitch's company, and it's refreshing to see such a collaborative approach in today's cutthroat environment. Still, it's strange for Intel to build a "smartphone with legs" at a time when the smartphone market has proven so impenetrable. This is a company's whose strengths lie almost entirely in productivity, the workplace, and intensive computing.

Is singing and dancing really the right move?
 
 
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