Luke Keyes has always loved Halloween. Every year, the software engineer and his wife create a haunted science lab in their garage for the kids in their North Austin neighborhood to explore. But, wanting to encourage social distancing this year, Keyes decided to scrap those plans and focus on a back-up: a candy-delivering robot.
“COVID is very real to us. We actually know of one person that passed away during the beginning, and the person that she lived with — he has permanent heart damage from it,” Keyes told Yahoo Life. “It’s very real to us.”
Keyes also has a lung condition of his own, and didn’t want to do anything that would encourage unsafe behavior.
“I’m comprised. I know it’s very real and I don’t want to get it, and condone or encourage others to spread it. But I feel bad because [the science lab] has finally grown to where the neighborhood kids will see me and ask about it,” says Keyes. “So I was like, OK, what can we do?”
A longtime robotics enthusiast, Keyes began building his robot, Arty, eight years ago out of Lego bricks and a Roomba. (Arty’s name is derived from the acronym for “Robot Test.”)
“I’m an ‘80s kid. In the ‘80s, robots were everywhere. They were in every movie,” said Keyes. “So when I was growing up, I just saw robots. Any time my parents would buy me a toy with a motor in it, they’d get so upset because I would take it apart and be like, I’m building a robot!”
There have been several changes to Arty over the years, but the robot now measures nearly 6 feet tall. He’s constructed out of a Balder power wheelchair that someone left in a boat shed, several cameras and a lot of wood. Keyes controls the robot, which he estimates weighs over 300 pounds, with an Xbox controller.
About a month ago, Keyes realized he could put Arty to use this Halloween season in an effort to promote safe trick-or-treating.
“Maybe we can do a reverse trick-or-treating where we just drive Arty around, and he’ll deliver candy to kids,” Keyes mused.
While there’s still about a month left to finalize the plans for the big night, Keyes says they’ll gather pre-assembled bags of candy and Halloween toys for each child in the neighborhood who wants to participate. Arty will carry the bags on his tray and distribute each one to the children.
“The bags will be on the tray. We’ll have these pre-made bags, we’ll glove up and mask up, and go down the street and figure out how many kids are at the household and put the bags on the tray and drive the robot over,” said Keyes.
In addition to promoting safe ways to have fun this Halloween, Keyes wants to make it clear that robotics is something that everyone can get into, no matter their limitations.
“I’m very vocal about how into robots I am. I started with Legos, and then it was a Roomba. I want to remove the barriers of robots. I want there to be cool robots out there, and cool robots that are built by people,” he shared. “I try to tell kids, this is where I started, and you can get up to this. Anybody can start building robots.”
As for what kind of candy Arty will be handing out on Halloween night, it’s no surprise that Keyes goes all out for the main event.
“I’m a big fan of the chocolate candy,” says Keyes. “That’s my go-to. I’m the house that gives out the full-size Snickers.”
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