You’ve surely seen them: the men and women standing alongside a highway holding a sign that entreats you to “Act Now” and “Save 50%” at some local venue. Well, those people might lose their jobs to a robot…and they might be happy to do so. Karl Wondra is a California entrepreneur who has built simple robots that stand and wave signs on the side of the road. He calls them SignDancers. For those used to seeing the human version, these advertising mannequins can be quite attention grabbing – they’ve been discussed all over the internet. Watch one in action in the videos below. I was able to talk with Wondra about the SignDancers and his plans for the future. What I heard surprised me: he built them to save lives, he’s selling them as fast as he can make them, and he’s going international. Not bad for a simple robot with a simple job.
Here’s a model in its natural habitat in Sacramento.
For those curious as to how the robot works, here’s a behind the scenes look. It’s little more than a basic motor and a mechanical guidance system.
According to Wondra, SignDancers will cost you about $1000 per month to rent. That’s roughly a third the cost of a human worker doing the same job (including things like liability insurance). Yet the savings are only part of the advantage of using the robot. The bigger issue is saving lives. Wondra, who owns an automotive glass company, was himself hit by a car. That tragedy was the inspiration for him building the SignDancer. Why risk a human life, especially in a low paying job, when a robot can do the same work?
Humanitarian considerations aside, there’s little doubt that SignDancers could become a thriving business. Wondra is renting and selling the devices as quickly as he can make them. He has patents on their construction, and formed domestic and international companies around their rental/sales (SignDancer Pro LLC and Interglobe Advertising and Motion, respectively). Karl is also working on revamping the design so that it can fold, detach, or otherwise disassemble for easier (and cheaper) shipping around the world.
You wouldn’t guess just by looking at it, but SignDancers could be a (relatively) big business. Undoubtedly part of that is due to Wondra’s ingenuity, but I think these devices are another example of how the merest application of automation can transform even the simplest industries. I mean, c’mon, these are mannequins that wiggle signs, right? How big of an idea can that be? Well, big enough to put people out of work, save lives, and make some serious money.
Robots – never doubt them.
[image credits: Claycord.com, Rob Cockerham]
[source: SignDancerPro/Karl Wondra]