Nov 21, 2012

I got a big kick out of the Robodance application as I was starting my collection of robots and beginning to design and build them myself. Robodance is a program that, coupled with the USB-UIRT allowed people like me to control his RoboSapien, Rovio, ISObot and other robots with a computer, writing little movement routines that could be saved up and nested to get some pretty sophisticated performance out of the ‘bots. We users hung around the RoboCommunity waiting anxiously for each new revision of RoboDance, anticipating the new robots it would support and the added functionality it would have.

Then came the announcement of RoboDance 5, and people really got excited. But it was delayed, and then delayed again, and even delayed some more. Weeks became months and months became years. Then the author began to solicit money from those of us on his notification of release list, explaining how development costs were keeping him from finishing up the release –which was sooo close. Then we got more requests for money and the author stated that he would be releasing two versions, one for money and another, limited version, for free. After all, he promised that RoboDance would be free. He also exlained that now RoboDance was also a telepresence utility, oriented to help defeat the isolation of the severely handicapped. He modified it to work with an EEG type sensor (that cost about $5,000) and said he was adding even more functionality. But! He needed more money.

Then came the kickstart program where he solicited a few thousand dollars from contributors to his project. Then he offered a discount for prepaid orders, again indicating that a release product was imminent. And, lo and behold, after a couple more rounds of pre-order solicitations, an alpha version was finally offered. It had problems, quite a few, actually, and didn’t work very well on later versions of Windows, and particularly 64 bit systems. In essence, rather than a release product, he was effectively getting people to pay him for the privilege of debugging his software.

Then came the mails asking us to buy his collections of robots. And just the other day I got a mail that was actually a badly camouflaged product promotion. As someone who only signed up for his list to be notified of when the completed version of RoboDance 5 came out, in spite of my continuing contributions to his cause, I was getting a little annoyed. I was feeling like I was being used. This last email sent me over the edge and I clicked on the Unsubscribe link.

I have gone from being a supporting contributor to feeling like a total sucker. I happen to think that the RoboDance list is just another version of the famous Nigerian phishing scam, albeit with the promise of long awaited software taking the place of the bazillion dollars. The truth is, I have moved on so far with robotics that I don’t even have a Robot I can use with his software. I long ago sold off my RoboSapiens, Rovios, U-Control Wall-E, ISObot and more. I actually had a complete collection of all of the Wowwee ‘bots. But not any more. In fact, I gave my USB-UIRT away to a purchaser of one of the robots, all of which I sold for $20 or so bucks each. Most of the robots are obsolete and not made anymore anyway. That’s how long I waited to get a copy of that stupid software.

The thing is, even if I still had the hardware to use RoboDance with, the software itself is still not matured and is still buggy and in need of improvement. Now, I think the author started out with good intentions, but I have to think that these days his application is just a scheme to add a few bucks to his disposable income. I think the latest development was only enough to keep people from screaming ‘rip-off’ at him, and not an honest effort to supply users with a fun programming tool for different robots.

It’s a shame, too. It was his software that opened up a whole new dimension of hobby for me. Taking my first robotic steps with his software going on five years ago. I don’t lament the money I paid. I guess it was worth it if I look at it the right way. But I resent predatory profiteering, and that’s what I think RoboDance turned into, and it’s a sad epitaph for something that was supposed to be fun.

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