"Beauty in the discarded: Robots out of the trash" #79

Among his many great qualities, the Hidalgo family can also boast a very small recycling bag - not because they don’t recycle, but because somebody in the family uses the “trash” people throw away in a unique and beautiful way.

When Joan Hidalgo was 4, he was diagnosed with Ataxia-Telangiectasia (A-T), a neurodegenerative disease with symptoms similar to Cerebral Palsy. Due to this very rare condition (a total of 35 people have been diagnosed with A-T in all of Spain), Joan has a little bit more free time on his hands than his peers, which he has put to good (great!) use.

This brilliant young man takes “trash” and turns them into adorable robot toys with a retro flair to draw attention to the waste we create. His father helps him collect bottle caps, soda cans, packaging, tins and a million other knick knacks as well as some vintage-looking circuit boards from broken electronics.

Joan has been making robots for 3 years now, since he was 14. He says he was inspired by Star Wars, and it’s easy to see some parallels: A young boy with some limitations in life making robots in a sunny city, but in Sant Cugat del Vallès everybody stays on the light side.

The robot creations with a serious case of 60s tin toy vibes are being sold in Itinerarium Foundation’s website as part of their ongoing collaboration. All proceeds go to Joan and his family, and Joan sometimes holds workshops to teach others to view “trash” in a different way.

Here’s where Fab Lab Barcelona comes in: Itinerarium Foundation contacted us and we started talking about how we could support Joan and his creations. He’s very good at making figurines, but he wants to push it further. He wants his robots to move, to make sounds, to light up - be more robot-y - and that’s something we are good at, so it only makes sense for us to team up.

In our collaboration, the Future Learning Unit team in Fab Lab Barcelona held several meetings and discussed what could be added to the robots. Does a robot need a “jet pack”? We can do that, sure, with a couple of LEDs there’s no limit! How about a robot that speaks? Can we replace the decorative circuit boards with functional ones? Why not! Can the robots move? How could they afford not to, when it’s so easy to make them!

Joan’s is a great story of following through with what you’re passionate about, while being aware of (but not weighed down by) one’s circumstances. We should all do as much as we can for what we want in life, and ask for help when we need it - there’s always somebody to offer it.