Play. Purpose.

As our agency grows and evolves, we realign our vision and revisit our core messaging. To end 2016, we developed a campaign in collaboration with local non-profit L.A. Kitchen featuring a nostalgic toy with a modern tech twist. The project was the embodiment of our values, curiosity and mission.

Toying Around with a Concept

We determined fairly early in the year that our follow-up to Hello Uganda would center around the implementation of nostalgia darlings Rock’em Sock’em Robots. Could we create an IoT experience that allowed users to throw punches from afar? If so, what would be the motivation to do so (aside from the inherent awesomeness, of course)?

We decided that the driver of the punches would be through hashtags on Twitter. We’d frame the experience as “Twitter’s first ever charity boxing match”. And we’d stream it on a microsite for users to see their actual punches being thrown. The campaign also served as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the bots craze that is currently sweeping across the tech world. All we had to do was figure out how to put all of these pieces, physical and digital, together.

Knock Out Injustice

With the help of some great conversations with L.A. Kitchen, a campaign idea was formed. We’d use our bots to allow people from all over to take a symbolic swing at the institutional issues that the organization combats through its programs. The effort not only meant to highlight the work of the organization, but to also raise awareness of the key issues that contributed to community problems.

We planned a variety of social media posts beginning with posters and a trailer that parodied title bouts. To keep it lighthearted, training and smack talk posts followed these. In the week leading up to going live, the focus was turned toward the solutions that L.A. Kitchen provides for the various injustices highlighted in the campaign — Homelessness, Food Waste, Ageism, Recidivism, Hunger and Unemployment.

Over the course of the week, the campaign netted nearly 200 user-driven punches and over forty thousand social media impressions. It was shared with agency news sites and maker blogs, including a retweet from Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi. Our effort spread much further than 150 holiday cards ever could in raising awareness for a great cause.

Building the Bots

Early on in prototyping, high torque micro servos with an attached push-bar beneath the bots yielded the best results for punch strength. Varied servo rotations were tested so that we could dial in controls that would consistently deliver jabs and knockout blows for each bots arms. These punches would be controlled through randomized integers received by the Arduino controlling the bots. Using a digital CNC (X-Carve) we could quickly develop mounts to hold the servos in a stable fashion through heavy use.

While creating a punching solution with the appropriate strength took some trial and error, another challenge was made immediately clear — what to do once the bots’ heads pop up? The moment that everybody who has played with this classic toy immediately thinks of is when their opponent’s head springs up high above his shoulder. With a live stream, we clearly didn’t want to be reaching and pushing down a bot’s head with each knockout shot, so we turned to servos and fishing line as a method of resetting them.

Resetting the heads was relatively simple. Determining they had been popped up offered a unique challenge. The goal was to create a solution that was fully automated. With the help of some photoresistors attached beneath the chin, we were able to set a threshold that would be triggered when an influx of light occurred (when the chin is raised, no longer blocking the photoresistor).

A custom ring was constructed using plywood, a branded canvas print and some other crafty elements and the activation came together as a whole.

The KO Bots project allowed the Friendly Vengeance team to put our heads together across a number of disciplines. From the campaign’s concept through its launch, we crafted a story that brought the physical and digital worlds together, using glue as much as code in the process. Whether or not it was the same nostalgia we were looking to evoke with the activation, KO Bots gave us a familiar sense of curiosity that got us into the tech world in the first place. It was the perfect balance of play and purpose — a suitable mantra going into 2017.