Hey there, robot enthusiasts and curious minds!
For many of us, the equally hilarious and intriguing “shitty robots” Simone has built in past years sparked our journey into robotics. From her infamous Toothbrush Machine to her soup-serving robot, Simone’s creations are an excellent reminder of two indispensable ingredients in building robots—being curious and having fun!
These days, Simone tends to focus on building more practical or “serious” inventions (of course, with her signature comedic approach). Her latest creations include a robot made out of glass and a Viam-powered robotic charger, appropriately named Chargla, for her magnificent Telsa-turned-pickup truck named Truckla.
Missed the AMA? Don’t fret—we’ve curated Simone’s responses to questions from our community below. (You can also see the recording to follow along.)
Grab a snack, sit back, and enjoy this trip into the world of robots as seen through Simone's delightfully unique lens!
How did you establish and grow your audience in robotics?
It was kind of a happy consequence of putting out a lot of things on the internet. If you look at some of my early projects, like the toothbrush helmet, they were well suited to be GIFs because I thought they were funny and that was one of the main ways I communicated online.
As people started requesting bigger projects, I started posting them to r/ShittyRobots on Reddit and that was the first community that really welcomed me and where a lot of my early projects started going viral.
And then it just snowballed from there! Six months later, I was working full-time with my YouTube channel and embarking on even bigger projects.
What’s the most challenging project you’ve worked on so far? And how did you overcome some of those challenges?
I feel like I’m always building at the edge of my capacity. There are very few projects where I’m like “oh, I got this.”
Converting a Tesla Model 3 into a pickup truck was probably the most challenging project, but the one that really got to me was probably the puzzle table I made.
It was a mechanical table where you can switch between two separate tabletops, and that was just really cumbersome to get working. I wasn’t sure I was going to pull that project off but I’m glad I proved myself wrong!
Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on?
I like the proud parent machine a lot. You give it a quarter and it pats you on the shoulder and says “I’m proud of you.”
It’s very peak “shitty robot” but at the same time, it feels like very hard-hitting commentary that struck a chord with a lot of people.
How do you motivate yourself to keep going after you hit a dead end in a project?
I think if I were just free-range building and didn’t have the external pressure of making a video, I might be tempted to give up more often. But I have this mentality that once I get into something, I just can’t let go of it.
The only projects I really give up on are the ones that don’t make it past the idea stage because I’m not excited enough about them. But the ones I’m really pumped about, I’m gonna see it all the way to the end.
How do you consistently achieve the high quality of your projects?
I’m fortunate that I can post a video every few months. That was a choice I made pretty early on in my YouTube career, to try to only post things when I have something I want to post about.
I’m also driven by really strong concepts. I tend to think that for me to justify creating something and for it to exist, it has to be really unique, and that’s really motivating.
Do you have examples of projects that didn’t get past the idea phase?
Oh boy, do I have a graveyard of ideas that might zombie back at some point. Some are silly but also strangely philosophical?
For example, one idea I had recently was an iPhone made out of rock, and my thinking was that sometimes it would actually be more useful for me to sit with an iPhone-shaped rock in my hand rather than my actual phone.
Another idea I had was building a really beautiful, elaborate casket for an old toothbrush or something. The reality is that our plastic toothbrushes are going to far outlive us, and in 200 years, someone’s gonna be like, whose toothbrush was this? And you’d have a casket that would say, this was Simone’s.
Where do you get your inspiration from? Does it just pop into your head or are there things you read or places you go that inspire your ideas?
It comes from a lot of different places, like identifying small everyday problems that I have. In my shitty robot era, I used to just make the most ridiculous solutions, but now I’m trying to actually come up with unique but still helpful solutions to those problems.
I also made these “build dice” with my friend, like one has materials and another has properties on it and so on. When you roll them, you’ll get ideas like “houseware made out of clay,” and based on that idea, I came up with the idea of making a flower vase that doubles as a lamp.
It’s fascinating how varied your projects are. When you have to learn something new for your projects, how do you go about acquiring those skills?
I often watch YouTube videos, or if it’s something I’m really nervous about, I reach out to friends like the one who helped me learn how to turn things on a lathe.
I think of my learning as self-guided. Nobody set up a curriculum, I looked for ways to learn new skills myself and also had so many people teach me along the way.
Do you ever have existential moments about why you do what you do? If so, how do you respond to yourself and move on?
Honestly… not really. I used to feel like I needed to explain things, but now I’ve moved past that and think that if what I’m doing brings people joy or inspires them to see the world around them as malleable, then that’s good. When what I do revolves around creativity and the joy of making something, I feel really good about it.
Do you have any tips for a beginner creator who is interested in documenting their own projects?
I’ve been doing this for eight years now and it still can be exhausting a lot because not only are you problem-solving and building, you also need to tell a story and direct at the same time.
Before, I used to do everything as camera-facing, but now I do more voiceovers and that helps with the transitions between scenes and telling the story once it comes together more.
Last question from us: if you could create a robot to do any task, what would it do?
I would create a robot that would edit my videos for me.
We hope you had as much fun getting a peek into Simone’s brilliant and creative mind as we did! If there’s anything we’ve learned from her, it’s that you can achieve incredible things when conventional definitions of “success” are thrown out of the window.
With curiosity and learning from failure as guides, you’ll be building cool robots in no time! If you’re looking for ideas, our beginner-friendly robot tutorials are a great place to start.
Interested in more events like this? Join the Viam Discord Community to see what we've got coming up. There, you can also get help with your robots and connect with fellow robotics professionals and enthusiasts.