UBTECH Robotics is a technology company based in Shenzhen, China, and focuses on developing artificial intelligence (AI) and humanoid robotics like the Alpha1 Pro. This model is a human-like robot that offers entertainment and education to the family. The Alpha1 Pro started retails globally in 2016 and finally reached Singapore shores in March. Distributed by Ban Leong, it retails at S$899.
Don’t expect Alpha1 Pro to act like an intelligent robot. No, it cannot react to verbal or visual commands – at least not this model. Then what can it do?
The Alpha1 Pro can sing, dance, tell stories, make fight moves. There are 16 articulations, each controlled by servo motor. Through the smartphone app, I can download action programs created by UBTECH and the Alpha1 user community.
Each program is categorised as dance, story, sport. It is quite amazing to see the Alpha1 make the moves in such precision and speed, like gyrating the hips, doing the breakdance, giving high kicks or side punches.
The story program is similarly delightful as we watch Alpha1 read a story through its built-in speaker while carrying out animating moves. Some of the stories downloaded from the app are professionally recorded with sound effects and voice actors, just like audio books, but now accompanied with live robot actor.
In the below Facebook Live video, I went through a complete demo on the capabilities of Alpha1 Pro.
Other than downloading apps on the smartphone, I can program Alpha1 to make my own moves. The smartphone can capture the actions simply by posing the robot and record the move. It is very gratifying to see how the moves turn out when you hit the play button. I can also adjust and re-pose each step in case it didn’t work out. The challenge is to sequence the actions without falling down, and to push the limits of gravity and balance.
Created this @ubtechrobotics action sequence using PRP function: pose, record, playback. No need programming talent, just plain imagination. The challenge is to pose #Alpha1pro without falling! #robotics #ubtechrobotsg #sgfamily #dadsforlife #weekend #robot #sgblogger #techblogger #musicphotolife #review
The more technical way to program is to plug the Alpha1 to the computer via USB cable and install the software on the computer. I guess this is more suitable for creating complex moves and syncing with audio tracks.
The closest thing to live interacting with the Alpha1 is using the gamepad feature from the smartphone app. There are on-screen buttons that you can move the Alpha1. Yes, if there are a few Alpha1 robots, you can make them fight one another.
One of the movement challenges of Alpha1 Pro is that it does not appear to walk forward and back naturally: it has to slide its legs to move instead of really lifting the foot and walk like a human does. Because once the foot lifts off the ground, the robot would lose balance and fall to the side.
Also, Alpha1 Pro could still lose balance and fall even for some professionally-created action programs. It does feel a little painful to see this 1.7kg robot fall on hard grounds, resulting in some scuffles on the white ABS body. But thanks to rugged design, the Alpha1 Pro appears to survive all the falls.
The most unfortunate drawback is the noise: each servo makes a buzzing motor sound, so imagine 16 servos moving altogether, what din it will make! The Alpha1 makes such loud sounds that it overpowers the internal speaker. Hopefully, future robots will improve on this area.
You cannot interact with verbal commands on the Alpha1 Pro, but it is an entertaining robot that can be programmed to offer much fun. It is the next-generation action figure for home activities like storytelling and gaming, and a companion for dancing and exercising who never judges. It is an introductory exposure to children on programmable robotics in a user-friendly and visually appealing form before moving on to other robotics that are built from scratch, like the Jimu, also by UBTECH.
The UBTECH Alpha1 Pro retails at S$899 and is available now in key retailers such as Tangs Orchard, Robinsons Heeren, Harvey Norman, Nubox Stores, Changi Airport Terminal 1, 2 & 3, Analogue+, hachi.tech (Online) Courts (Online), and authorized UBTECH retailers in Singapore.