The Swedish inventor, called ‘the queen of shitty robots’, has attracted thousands of followers with her quirky contraptions for eating cereal or applying lipstick
Known as “the queen of shitty robots”, Swedish inventor Simone Giertz builds robots to help with everyday activities – except, they don’t work. Well, mechanically they work beautifully, but her robots show we’ve got a while to go before every part of our life is automated.
The 25-year-old lives on a houseboat in Stockholm and runs a highly successful YouTube channel with 124,000 subscribers, where she posts videos of her surreal and hilarious contraptions, such as robots to feed her cereal, put on her lipstick and chop vegetables.
Her most recent video – a head banging repeatedly against a keyboard – is to help argue on the internet.
She spoke with the Guardian about being a self-taught full-time shitty robot creator.
What was the first robot you built?
My friend Jonathan Lönnqvist and I made this iPhone case with retractable guitar strings. Needless to say, it was a pretty ambitious first hardware project. The first one I made that falls under the category “shitty robots” was this toothbrush helmet.
What made you want to learn how to make robots?
Because I had a lot of ideas that I wanted to prototype. To me, ideas are like annoying salespeople that only go away once I’ve built them.
You studied physics at college but are mainly self-taught in robotics. How did you teach yourself?
By building stuff! My learning process has always been very idea-oriented. I never sat down with a book being like, “OK, now I’m going to learn about transistors.” Instead I had an idea that I really liked and learned as I was trying to figure out how to build it.
What was the inspiration for your newest video about internet arguments?
To be honest, my inspiration for that one was: “Oh damn, I need a video for this week.” And then I remembered that my friend had commented that I should make a facerolling robot for all the marriage proposals I get. Didn’t know facerolling was a thing before that. The internet is a weird place.
How long does it take you to make a robot?
Really depends. Some of the projects I do are just me programming a robot arm, like the Lipstick Robot, the Breakfast Machine and the facerolling robot. Those are like an afternoon of work. Other projects, like the Applause Machine, are probably one to two weeks full-time.
Which is your favorite robot you’ve built so far?
I like the Applause Machine because it’s the perfect combination of quirky and creepy. I rode the bus carrying it the other week and watching people react to it was priceless.
Is this now your full time job?
Yes it is! My job is without a doubt my best invention so far. I just realized that all the regular jobs I’ve had have killed my motivation. I always thought that if I just pushed myself harder and put more of myself into it it’d become more fun, but I just couldn’t get the same spark as when I worked on my own projects. So I changed my strategy and instead of trying to push myself into a mold that didn’t really fit, I thought I’d just try to change the mold. I quit my job in San Francisco, moved back to Stockholm, lived on 0.5 GB of data a month and just tried to free up as much time as possible to work on stuff I thought was fun. It was never my plan that things would take off the way they have, I just wanted to work on stuff I was enthusiastic about, and apparently other people were enthusiastic about them too!
What’s your next robot?
Secret! It’s a collaboration with one of my biggest idols and I think it’s going to be my best one yet. Will be out sometime at the end of March!
What’s your dream robot project that you don’t yet have the time/skills/money for?
A submarine houseboat. I live on an old tugboat but feel that having a submarine would be the next level.
Do you see your videos and robot as art?
No, definitely not. Art scares me. I don’t feel cool enough to be an artist.
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