By Erik Wecks, GEEKDAD
At his day job, Gary Hirsch is a business consultant running a company called On Your Feet which uses improvisational theater to help businesses communicate and collaborate. When not working with managers from Nike and other large corporations, you might find Hirsch busy painting robots on the backs of dominoes or out and about Portland, Oregon, leaving his creations all over town for people to find.
In early 2012, his “What Brings Portland Joy?” project asked finders of his bots to post pictures of their bot with things which brought them joy. In true Portland style, he soon had pictures of kale, roller derby, and beer. Recently, Hirsch was asked to have his bots included in the swag bags for both the Emmys and the Golden Globes. Joy Bots and other Bot creations by Gary Hirsch have now been showing up with the likes of Downton Abbey‘s Elizabeth McGovern; cast members from Glee, True Blood and Breaking Bad; and Survivor host Jeff Probst, who recently ordered 100 of them to give to the guests on his talk show.
Not only are Hirsch’s bots hobnobbing with the rich and famous, but they are also becoming well traveled. Hirsch says that he has received pictures of his bots from all over the world. “There is a part of the website ‘Where in the world is your Bot?,’ and folks love sending in photos of their Bot in exotic places: Bali, Egypt, Nairobi, and the Arctic Circle to name a few.
After meeting the art therapist at Randal Children’s hospital in Portland, Hirsch asked if he could make a special “Brave Bot” for kids being admitted to the hospital. Now each child admitted to the day surgery unit gets a special Brave Bot with instructions that read:
- Allow your robot to get to know you by letting him hang out with you in your room, on your windowsill, in your pocket, or wherever you like to spend time.
- Listen carefully, when needed, your Brave Bot will use his robot powers to give you a little bit of courage to face the things that feel uncertain and scary.
- Keep your Brave Bot with you anywhere you go for a little bit of courage where ever you are.
“I hear some amazing stories of how the Bots are helping,” says Hirsch, “For instance: Ava, a wonderful 8 year with type 1 diabetes holds on to her Brave Bot every time she gets an injection. Her Mom just told me that now Ava is able to give herself insulin injections with the Brave Bot watching.”
When asked why he thinks these bots seem to have helped, Hirsch answered, “The Bots are small, feel great in your hand, the kids are always bigger then the Bot, they can talk to it, they feel in control. Somehow the Bots help you have conversations with yourself that you might not have otherwise. I have really no idea how they work. I just make them and let the people that have them do the rest.”
I asked Hirsch how he came up with the idea for the bots.
“I had this idea about 5 years ago: What if you had an imaginary robot that followed you around all day and gave you outrageous compliments? It was a fun idea to imagine, so I included it in an illustrated journal that we made for our On Your Feet clients and gave them out when we were running innovation and creativity sessions. The image of a robot following you around giving you compliments kept haunting me… I mean seriously, how cool would that be? It would be invisible, and only you would know it was there, and it would say things to you like “Nice pants” or “That was a smart thing to do” or “You made the right choice.” So two years ago, I thought, “Let’s make the robot real” and after playing with several surfaces, I stumbled onto the domino. Now instead of an invisible robot, you have a small one that you can take anywhere.”
One of the things I love about each bot is that it is a numbered piece of art. I have bots which Hirsch gave me in the 15,000 range. He told me that recently he passed number 17,000 and has left hundreds of them around cities like Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas. Hirsch is incredibly generous with his bots, giving away thousands of his creations. The rainy night I met him, Hirsch stuffed the pockets of my jacket with several bots for me, and some for my kids as well. He also produces large scale installations of his bots which used hundreds of individually crafted pieces. Hirsch says that he can lose himself for hours while painting bots and is nowhere near bored with the project.
Hirsch has branched out from the original joy bots. There are now 26 different Bots. “You can see them all on my Etsy site with new ones sprouting up all the time. My favorites are:
- Joy Bots (make you feel instantly better)
- Love Bots (tell you how much they love you)
- Decision Bots (Make your decision so you don’t have to)
- Get Started Bots (kicks you in the butt and stops you procrastinating)
- Luck Bots (instant good luck)
- Brave Bots (courage to face anything)
- Caffeine Bots (Wakes you up)”
The Launch of the Unplugged Bot:
Recently, Hirsch’s brother came up with an idea for a new bot, the Unplugged Bot. The Unplugged Bot assists its owners to unplug once in a while and re-connect with the real world. Like all his bots, they are hand-painted and one-of-a-kind.
“Do you know someone who needs to unplug? Who has to check their electronic devices every 20 seconds?”
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