St. Vrain students help build BiBli, the robot that bonds with shy children

BiBli, Longmont Library's kid-friendly robot, is having babies.

Last year Jalali Hartman, through his startup ROBAUTO and a partnership with the library, worked with a group of local kids to create BiBli.

Children can talk to BiBli, which has a camera and microphone and rolls around the library on a set-up similar to Roomba vacuums. Because the remote-controlled robot is somewhere between human and object, children on the autism spectrum or children who have a hard time interacting with people have a much easier time with BiBli.

Now, Hartman is partnering with the St. Vrain Valley school district's Innovation Center to employ teens who are engineering and manufacturing the next iteration, called Baby BiBlis.

The plan is to design and build four prototyps by the end of December and test them in schools, libraries and homes. Once the kinks are worked out, Hartman said he hopes to take a commercial model of BiBli to market in the first quarter of 2016 for somewhere under $600. The commercial model would be marketed to schools, libraries and select homes.

"I want it to be the first intelligent robot that you could check out at a library and take home with you," Hartman said. "The goal is to get it that durable and accessible."

Hartman said that 10 percent of the revenue will go back to the St. Vrain Innovation Center, specifically to hire more students. An additional 2.5 percent of revenue will go into a scholarship fund for the student BiBli team.

The students earn $10 an hour, with Hartman kicking in $3 from ROBAUTO.

Rhett Sandal, 17, and Andrew Shearer, 17, are the development team for the Baby BiBli project. Essentially, the design team comes up with what they want the robots to do and it's Sandal and Shearer's job to make it happen.

On Wednesday, they both excitedly showed off their work on the new BiBlis' voice command function, vocally prodding some hardware and software to tell the boys knock-knock jokes.

"I definitely enjoy this as a job for sure. It's amazing to do what you like and get paid for it," Sandal said. "It's a lot better than flipping burgers."

Axel Reitzig, computer science coordinator for the Innovation Center, said the partnership with Hartman is beneficial to the students because they get to learn real-world skills and take an idea from conception to a finished product going to market.

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Rhett Sandal, 17, a senior at Silver Creek High School, works on a Baby BiBli robot at the Innovation Center in Longmont on Wednesday. (Matthew Jonas / Times-Call Staff Photographer)