Meet Ben-E, the benevolent robot!
He’s a bit of a goofy character. Sometimes he trips over his blue shoes or gets tangled up in his long, bendy arms.
He’s also a bit of a science nerd and he really likes talking to kids. Well, he’s kind of a “kid” himself, what with him being less than two weeks old. Where did he come from, you might want to know? From another planet? A parallel universe? Did his rocket ship crash-land into the Pacific?
“We’re not quite sure yet what the story behind Ben-E is and where he’s from,” Chimp designers Jen Cook and Nick Frühling admit.
Ben-E is Jen’s and Nick’s brainchild and his main mission is to explain two rather complex topics — giving and charity — to kids, and to learn about charity alongside them.
His first opportunity to shine is coming up fast: On February 9, Ben-E will lead kids through The Science of Giving, a special Chimp-powered Family Day event at Vancouver’s Science World.
“We wanted to challenge ourselves to invent a character that speaks to kids for the event on a really tight timeline,” says Jen and adds that she’s a bit nervous about Ben-E’s premiere.
“It’s a bit like watching my kid brother get up on stage for a school play. You just hope everyone likes him and he doesn’t fall off the stage.”
If you’d like to learn more about Ben-E and the creative process that brought him to life, keep on reading. We were granted an “exclusive interview” with Ben-E inventors Jen and Nick.
How did you come up with the idea for Ben-E?
Nick: We were looking for ways to break down a difficult topic like charity into bite-sizes so that kids can understand what that’s all about. So, with The Science of Giving coming up, we were thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have something like a tour guide?’ That’s where it all started.
Jen: We talked about multiple characters in the beginning. An animal was in the mix, but then we thought animals is more of a cause people give to and “robot” just came up a few times in conversations and it just made sense. Robots are fun, cause-neutral and Chimp has a tech side to it. Everything just came together.
What happened then?
Jen: I was on the bus going to work and the name Ben-E popped into my head. “Ben” for benevolent and E for the (electronic) robot part. After that we had a bunch of brainstorms, or “sketch storm”, to figure out what our robot is going to look like.
Nick: There were some ideas or concepts we really wanted to visualize. We wanted to open up that definition of what charity can be: that kids don’t have to choose just one cause, or one charity, that it’s an open playground. So, we decided on that “microwave” body with the hole. That way we can add a symbol for any cause. By default it’s the charity ribbon that shows up.
Jen: We also wanted to promote the idea of giving with your head, heart and hand and that it’s the best kind of giving. So, that could be Ben-E’s superpower and when he gives with all three something happens. We haven’t thought through yet, what that would be. Maybe he shoots rainbows? (laughs)
Was designing for kids fun?
Nick: Definitely. It was fun to to think about how we want Ben-E to look so that he appeals to kids. We tried different glasses, different colours and we played with the arms and legs to make them long, stripy and really fun. We worked a lot on the smile, trying to wrap our heads around the “physics of the robot smile” and how the smile and the head needs to be designed so that Ben-E can express different emotions. I think those are the elements, that really add personality and made Ben-E come to life.
Jen: We thought a lot about his personality and decided that Ben-E is more friend than teacher. He has the facts about the causes and giving, but he’s still figuring things out himself. He’s still exploring giving and what causes he cares for, just like the kids.
What’s your favourite Ben-E feature?
Jen: I love his shoes. And also the response we’ve already gotten from kids of people we work with. Our marketing director showed Ben-E to his daughter and talked a bit about charity and the next day she came to dinner holding a little tin can with “bank account” written on it and she asked her parents for donations for a children’s hospital. So, with the help of Ben-E she really internalized the whole concept right away. That’s amazing.
Nick: I talked to my sons about Ben-E and one of them right away drew a picture of him. It’s Ben-E’s first piece of fan mail, I guess. (laughs)
What’s in Ben-E’s future? Any plans?
Nick: It’ll be interesting to see how kids and parents interact with him on Family Day. I think that will inform what Ben-E’s future is going to look like and what we should do to give his character longevity.
Jen: It was a really interesting challenge to create a figure that has longevity. All those movies we’ve seen as kids and grew up with, like Goofy or Mickey Mouse. How do you create a character like that? It was quite interesting to be on the other side of that relationship.
If you and your family would like to meet Ben-E, learn about the science of giving or embark on a fun scavenger hunt, visit Chimp at Science World on Family Day, February 9! Get your family ticket today.