Bristle Bot Controversy


When the Bristlebots were released back in 2007 by Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, we all thought they were pretty cool. Apparently someone at Klutz did too. They have released a book, with the title “Invasion of the BristleBots”. The bots seem to be identical and the name is identical. There is no mention of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories anywhere in it. [Phillip Torrone] has attempted to contact Klutz and the book publisher Scholastic directly to find out more information.

[Windell] and [Lenore] from EMSL had this to say:

“This is the first that I’ve heard of it. Frankly, I am a bit offended. Klutz makes some nice things, and I’m surprised that they wouldn’t have contacted us, asked permission, or at least given us credit. (Locomotion by ratcheting bristles isn’t remotely new — it occurs in nature — but the name ‘Bristlebot’ is surely ours, and I don’t know of any prior implementation with a toothbrush.)”

You probably know EMSL from their other projects such as the Peggy and Meggy jr. How would you feel if a project you did was published without credit? Would you care or not?

66 thoughts on “Bristle Bot Controversy

  1. I simply *love* how everyone is immediately against klutz simply because they’re the big guy in this situation except there is prior art to show that ems didn’t create it first and there is definite evidence that ems have allowed companies to sell bristlebots *and* register domain names to do so. for example. I don’t feel the least bit of sympathy for ems. As someone already said…tiny tempest, tiny teapot.

  2. I didn’t see Karel Čapek given any credit for coining the term “robot” in any of this. Just think, all those words and inventions we take for granted and there’s no mention anywhere where the word or idea came from.

    Klutz could have extended a courtesy but none of us even know if anyone of significance at the company even knows where the idea came from. You will be disappointed if expecting companies to do things out of the goodness of their heart. So if this upsets them, or anyone else, then start reading about ways of protecting your ideas to prevent it.

    Microsoft spends millions protecting their ideas, and many of them aren’t even as good as Bristlebots.

  3. @ehrichweiss – i think you’re missing the point, credits EMSL – this isn’t a legal question, it’s an ethical one – should scholastic and klutz credit EMSL? turns out after they reviewed their position they changed their mind and will now credit them – big companies do not do things like this unless it’s very clear they might not win in court and/or they simply made a mistake and wish to correct it.

    so for everyone here who thinks EMSL shouldn’t have been credited, it turns out that both scholastic and klutz do not agree with you (now).

  4. I have been published without credit – not a matter of my work being stolen, such as this appears to be, but it does suck all the same to me. If my stuff is being shown, it would be nice to at least have a name attached to it.


  5. A while back, I was getting started with surface mount soldering and I needed a small container to store solder paste in. After a bit of running around looking for the right size container, it finally dawned on me to use a contact lens case. I posted about it on the Sparkfun forums about a month later. A couple of weeks after that, Make magazine posted a whole writeup about how contact lens cases are ideal for storing small parts.

    Now, I’m not saying that Make magazine’s post isn’t original, but from where I stand, I would have felt better if they would have at least admitted that their writeup wasn’t a completely original idea, imho.

  6. Actually, “bristlebots” (as a concept) were first conceived by a guy whose name I can’t recall but whose general lack of politeness had him cast off of the OLDEST BEAM mailing list run by Mark Dalton either at the end of 1996 or the beginning of 1997. Incidentally, I became the “BEAM Heretic” about the same time and was kicked off the list shortly afterward… basically, neither of us believed in the nonsense that Mark Tilden was spouting about his robots: both control structure and mechanics (but we won’t go into that here).

    This other guy’s contention was that you could take a “slicker” which is an animal brush that does exactly what its name implies – it “slicks down” the top layer of an animal’s coat & is OK as long as you don’t hit a mat or tangle. They have possibly 256 (16×16) short bristles, all bent at the same angle made of stainless steel, so he said that you could put an eccentric motor on top and it would “Move around just as well as any BEAM robot and, if given a slope, would tend to move up it in a fairly agile manner if aimed properly.” Since that “platform” was somewhat large, I think he began to discuss the idea of using separate motors on either side for steering, but of course, his ideas were cut off rather abruptly.

    In any case, his design was absolutely the same as the so-called “bristlebots” (not merely in general, but actually in basic appearance), just made with tougher and larger materials. In other words, his designed PRE-DATED all other claims by at least ten years!!!

  7. well here’s my quids worth.

    when i was a kid in primary school around 1988, in a technology lesson we were asked to think of new ways to clean things using technology!! and guess what me and my class mate designed and built somthing very similer to this using a stiff scrubing brush and two 6v motors to manover it around!! the main differance was we had wire’s hanging off of it so we could power the motors indavidualy to change diarection, admitedly it didn’t work very well, but the idea is almost the same.

    i dont think anyone can argue the toss over this one.

  8. you know, this was silly when it started and it’s still silly now. I don’t even care if Klutz ripped them off (which, when I last looked into this, there wasn’t piles of evidence showing that they did, and like John says above, others had the idea earlier). What gets me is best summed up by this quote

    “If you’re afraid of being ripped off, then you’re an amateur.”

    Move on and get your revenge by coming out with other better ideas.

  9. The first toothbrush to resemble the modern toothbrush is believed to have been invented in China in the late 1400s, which used the stiff hairs from a hog’s neck, attached to a bamboo stick. Something so old and people still doen’t brush their teeth properly. :(

  10. Windell is often easily offended. When I ordered about $850 worth of “interactive LED table” panels and asked about his page which claims “open source” in the title, a page which was selling the LED panels, he got very nasty with me and refused my order. All over an honest question about the “open source” implication. Windell may be smart enough to design LEDs but not smart enough to answer non-threatening questions about his open source claims. After trying to buy nearly $1,000 of product and getting snubbed it feels like dealing with a schizo….

    Buyer beware.

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