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Bot & Dolly and the Rise of Creative Robots

Bot & Dolly, the FX shop that made Sandra Bullock float in space, has plans beyond Hollywood
Bot & Dolly and the Rise of Creative Robots
Photograph by Ike Edeani for Bloomberg Businessweek

Behind a small cafe in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood stands an unmarked warehouse where the future of human-machine interaction is taking shape. Inside this sprawling maze of soundstages, machine shops, and computer labs, artists collaborate with engineers, cinematographers brainstorm with coders, and everyone has a collegial relationship with the small army of industrial robots stationed here. This is Bot & Dolly, a boutique design studio that specializes in combining massive mechanical arms with custom software for movies, architecture, digital fabrication, and entertainment installations. “We’re a culture of makers, of creators with open minds,” says Tobias Kinnebrew, Bot & Dolly’s director for product strategy. “We work on things that don’t seem possible and try to make them possible.”

One of Bot & Dolly’s first clients, Google, bought into that vision quite literally. In 2012 it commissioned Bot & Dolly to create an attention-grabbing experience to promote its Nexus Q media-streaming device at the Google I/O conference. Bot & Dolly built an 8-foot-across, 300-pound Nexus Q mounted on a robot arm that passersby controlled via several Nexus gadgets working in tandem. The client was apparently quite pleased. Late last year, Google acquired Bot & Dolly for an undisclosed sum. A spokeswoman for the search giant declined to comment on the deal.