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Si digital News

Sid the office robot

The robotic arm that sits in our office

sid robot arm

After a rollercoaster first month of releasing Sid to the world it’s time to summarise the successes, failures and the battle against griefers!

Meet Sid

He is a robotic arm that sits in our office and is controlled over the internet by players from around the globe, all in realtime.

We quietly launched Sid on 20th November and before we knew it the traffic started to pour in. Players were submitting Sid to some of the big news sites like Reddit and Hacker NewsFast Company tweeted a link to their 936,000 followers and traffic surged again.

At one point we had 701 simultaneous viewers with a wait time of nearly 4 hours, and yes, some people did wait that long to play! Players started creating YouTube videos about Sid and some even set up Twitter accounts just so they could Tweet their score.

Highscores for everyone!

The scoring system consists of push switches under each hole, when the ball falls through a hole it triggers the switch which tells everyone the player has scored. We found a rare angle of ball entry into one of the holes that meant the ball got stuck holding the switch down. The moment your go started you were then continually awarded points every couple of seconds! We found the issue and re-seated one of the switches in under 30 minutes and bought Sid back online. For similar applications we would definitely choose some form of motion detection rather than physical switches which can degrade over time with so many people playing.

robot holes

Enter 4chan

One afternoon we saw a rise in traffic from boards.4chan.org. A referring domain in your logs that instantly raises the heart rate and gives you that feeling in the pit of your stomach. Anonymous, rapid-fire imageboard 4chan has a reputation for a reason, some of their members are behind some of the biggest high profile attacks on websites in the past 5 years including the public facing website of the CIA. So naturally, when we started seeing a surge of visitors we knew something bad was no doubt on its way


And so it began, a torrent of abusive messages in the 4chan thread with many trying to share tips on how they might be able to break the arm. Luckily we built Sid with the mindset of abuse and he had plenty of motor limit protection to stop the arm hitting the staging area or moving “out of bounds”. After 3 hours Sid was still standing and they’d been unable to wreck any havoc, until we suddenly saw a message appear on screen that wasn’t sent by us…

We built in a global notification system so we could send messages to players and give them updates when required. A clever 4channer had found a logic bug in the code and was able to send 3 admin messages before we detected the issue, fixed it and closed him off! Thankfully 3 unsolicited messages were the only damage and the next 24 hours were business as usual.

4chan even started tweeting with the hashtag #freesid2013 to spur efforts to “free” Sid from his human masters!

On reflection, we’re glad 4chan paid us a visit. We are confident in the security and reliability of the systems we build and it was reassuring to see Sid hold up against the worst.

YouTube Gamers

What amazed us the most about this experiment was the response we had on social channels. Although we “gamified” Sid we never really considered him a full-blown web game, but that’s not how our visitors saw it. We saw people challenging each other for top scores over Twitter, YouTubers with millions of subscribers were uploading videos about Sid and 2 months on we are still receiving thousands of visitors from these videos every day.

They say practice makes perfect, according to our database @lancethackeray played 330 times to achieve his high score. He recorded a video of his victory which you can watch. Now that’s dedication!


Burnt motors

After 130,000 plays one of Sid’s motors finally gave in. One afternoon he was unresponsive to left and right movements, after taking him offline to investigate we found one of the motors had completely burnt out and the cog’s teeth threaded! We placed an order for a replacement motor and within 24 hours Sid was once again online. For future hardware projects we will definitely have spares on hand, and would recommend metal gears rather than plastic for longevity.

robot burnt out

Relying on Twitter to restrict profanity

When dealing with user generated content (in this case player names) you always have to be aware of both security and profanity. We are all grown ups here but we were wary that young children might enjoy playing with Sid, so we wanted to keep our leaderboard as PG as possible. We knew using Twitter usernames would help the issue of security (if the username is deemed safe for storage and display by Twitter than it must be for us) but we naively thought they used some form of profanity filter for usernames! That was a bad assumption of course, especially when 4chan joined the party. However, we now have a reasonable list (NSFW) of “bad” Twitter accounts we came across if it’s of any use. Some usernames aren’t bad, but their avatars are!

Interactive marketing

Sid was the third in a series of digital marketing initiatives we’ve worked on. The last two of these have combined the digital and physical world to engage on a deeper level with our audience. Each marketing campaign has seen a vast increase in traffic and interest for us.

We’ve invested the time and energy in honing the technology, providing video streaming with less than a second lag and the hardware skills to keep Sid going with almost 100% uptime for 2 months solid and over half a million visitors during that time.

There is a huge potential for this kind of digital marketing campaign. We are now looking to work with a like-minded brand who sees the potential in engaging with its audience in a unique way.

To discuss the opportunities, drop us a line