Robot makers not thrilled to be stuck next to Justin Bieber

Xybotyx co-founder David Shafter in his CES booth, with Justin Bieber fans crowding in the background.

Story highlights

  • Entrepreneurs had misfortune of a CES booth next to where Justin Bieber was appearing
  • Rubberneckers overwhelmed their Xybotyx booth, but not to see their robot
  • Startup co-founder: "It's the best of times, it's the worst of times"
For David Shafter, it should have been a dream: A crush of excited people swarming his booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show, where his startup is launching its first product.
But all the people hoisting cameras and raising themselves on tiptoe for a better view Wednesday afternoon weren't there to see his robot. They were angling for a peek at pop star Justin Bieber, who was making an appearance at the booth next door.
"We're pretty much shut down," said Shafter with a weary look of resignation, as rubberneckers squealed and shouted "Justin!" in the background. "We can't run our demos."
Shafter's fledgling company, Xybotyx, is making its first appearance at CES to introduce its Xybot, a hockey-puck-shaped robotic device that zips around on little wheels, controlled by an iPhone or iPod Touch.
Owners can download apps to their phone that give the robot specific behaviors, like avoiding obstacles. The gadget will go on sale this spring at the quirky price of $111.11.
But none of the hundreds of people pressed up against his booth cared about that.
Justin Bieber holds a microphone in front of the mRobo Ultra Bass as he unveils the portable speaker and dancing robot.
They only had eyes for the teen singer with the sideswept hair who was greeting fans nearby at the TOSY booth, where he made an appearance on behalf of that company's new mRobo, a portable speaker that morphs, "Transformers" style, into a little dancing robot.
Middle-aged tech execs aren't exactly Bieber's demographic, but many onlookers said they were there to get photos or autographs for their teen-age kids. Some people even asked if they could climb atop Shafter's plywood demo table to get a better view. (The answer was no.)
"It's the best of times, it's the worst of times," grumbled Shafter's business partner, Xybotyx co-founder Dan McShan, surveying the madness surrounding him. "We're trying to get him (Bieber) to defect."
Shafter said he was planning to approach CES officials about compensating him for his lost booth time during Bieber's two-hour appearance.
"It's definitely costing us valuable hours of time with our target audience," McShan said.
In the meantime, however, Shafter had another plan: If he couldn't beat them, he was going to join them. He placed one of his robots on the floor and, using his iPhone, began navigating it toward Bieber in the hopes of getting a remote-controlled picture.
"I was driving it up to the Bieb," he said with a grin a few minutes later. "I made it about halfway there. But the security guard grabbed it."