Simone Giertz Built a Career on Dysfunctional Robots, But Her New Self-Care Device Actually Works
On her YouTube channel, she makes “shitty robots.” In private, she built a (functional) electronic device that helped her get through a very heavy year. Now, she’s bringing it to others who need a boost.
“That is a thing of nightmares,” says Steven Colbert. He’s hosting Simone Giertz on his late-night show, where she’s demoing an extremely impractical vegetable-cutting robot. It’s one of the many slapdash, slapstick “shitty robots” that have made her a YouTube sensation. Well over a million subscribers follow her channel to see inventions like a hair-cutting drone, a butt-wiping machine, a Westworld robot, and an alarm clock that slaps her in the face. They seldom work very well, but her comedy routine works better that way. Adam Savage, Ellen DeGeneres, and space-bound astronauts have all asked to join in on her ridiculous schtick.
But she doesn’t want to get pigeonholed. With the launch of her Kickstarter project, she’s trying, for the first time, to make an electronics device that actually works.
Giertz’s Every Day Calendar is a piece of art that helps you stick to your intentions. For every day you practice the habit that you’re trying to build, you get to tap a touchpad and record your accomplishment. It’s satisfying to physically record your good behavior — and see a long string of successes. But even as its creator, Giertz was surprised to see just how much this self-care device helped her through an unexpectedly tumultuous summer.
At first this invention was just something she wanted to try out for herself. She’d been trying to set a daily yoga and meditation practice since she was a teenager, but tools like checklists and apps weren’t working. Giertz built an early prototype of the Every Day Calendar, and, about a year ago, she realized her habits had started to stick.
“I was actually managing to meditate every day. I started to explore, ‘Is this something that might be able to help other people? Is this something we could turn into a product?’”
She already knew it would be a very different project than her chaos-prone robots. “When I build for YouTube, there isn’t necessarily an end goal. I have an idea of how I want a thing to work, but if it doesn’t work that way, I can always adapt the story. The story is the main driver, not the machine.”
Not only does the Every Day Calendar have to work, but it has to work at scale. “Building one prototype is one thing. Building two prototypes is [another] thing. Building a thousand of something gets exponentially harder.”
The challenge felt exciting. Giertz says her approach to new interests is always to “dive into the deep end of the pool” — whether that means moving to China as a foreign exchange student in high school, buying a houseboat as a way to practice more carpentry, or teaching herself robotics with no formal technical background.
The Every Day Calendar is another instance of learning by doing — and enlisting lots of expert help. Giertz built a team to set up manufacturing and testing rigs, fine-tune electrical engineering and product design, and chase down contract manufacturers. Her experience building “shitty” robots made her more familiar with the electronics this new project required, but this was “a whole other beast.”
And then a medical crisis tore through her plans. In April, she posted a video with a personal announcement instead of her typical roundup of robot experiments. “Last week I found out I have a pretty substantial brain tumor — plot twist,” she told her fans.
Her YouTube channel went unusually quiet through the spring and summer. The surgery was successful, but Giertz says that she’s still “figuring out my limitations in this new brain shape I have.”
As disruptive as it’s been, the experience has underlined the importance of the self-care habits that she had been building. “It wasn’t until I was going through this really difficult thing that I realized just how important this product is for me,” she says.
“It’s a lot easier to keep your habits and do the right things on a good day. But the days that are really, really tough are when you need your habits most.”
“On my bad days, sitting down and meditating was the last thing I wanted to do. But I’d see the Every Day Calendar on the wall and I’d see all the days that I had done beforehand and all the work I’d put into it. And I’d think, ‘Okay, it’s just another 10 minutes. I can do that today.’”
This trying year has made her think about what’s important to her as a creator, too. She might be known for YouTube videos featuring shitty robots, but she feels optimistic about sharing new interests, like the Every Day Calendar, with her audience.
“I try to view my YouTube channel as a logbook of personal interests,” she says. “If I find something is interesting, there are probably other people who find it interesting…if I’m into what I’m doing, there will be other people who are into it, too.”
“I think it’s just all about taking your enthusiasm seriously. If you lose your enthusiasm, you lose a bunch of other things as well.”
Her Every Day Calendar project is her next big endeavor, but she can see how it might expand into even bigger, more ambitious projects. She says this could be a first step towards eventually opening an IDEO-inspired product design shop — about which she’d share updates and insights on YouTube, naturally.
“But I need to get through this one first.”