Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: An Affordable Robotic Arm

Industrial robot arms are curious devices, found everywhere from the back of old engineering classrooms where they taught kinematics in the 90s, to the factory floor where they do the same thing over and over again while contemplating their existence. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Dan] is building a big robot arm. It’s not big enough to ride on, but it is large enough to automate a few processes in a reasonably well-equipped lab.

This is not a tiny robotic arm powered by 9 gram hobby servos. For the bicep and tricep of [Dan]’s arm, he’s using linear actuators – they’re high precision and powerful. A few months ago, [Dan] tried to design a hypocycloid gear but couldn’t get a $3000 prototype to work. Although the hypocycloid is out, he did manage to build a strange differential pan/roll mechanism for the wrist of the arm. It really is a thing of beauty, and with the engineering [Dan] has put into it, it’s a very useful tool.

If you’d like to meet [Dan]’s robot arm in person, he’ll be at the 2015 NYC Maker Faire this weekend. Check out [Dan]’s Hackaday Prize video for his robot arm below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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3D Mouse Drives Robot Arm

You’ve built the perfect robotic arm. How do you drive it? If you are [angrymop] you interface a 3D mouse from 3DConnexion via a few microcontroller boards. The Spacenavigator mouse is a staple anywhere professional CAD people are working, and it looks like it is a natural fit for a robot arm.

According to [angrymop], the Raspberry Pi can read the mouse’s commands via /dev/hidraw (that’s the raw human interface device). Each motion generates two lines of output. Each line has a unique identifying byte and values corresponding to the axis positions.

The Raspberry Pi then uses an SPI interface to talk to an ARM microcontroller and that drives the servos. The arm (the robot arm, not the processor) itself is well done, made from Lego Technic parts and common RC servos. Not that this is the most amazing thing we’ve ever seen built from Technic, but it is still pretty impressive.

You have to wonder if other 3D controllers might be useful for controlling robot arms or how the Spacenavigator would do controlling a bigger, more capable arm. Then again, maybe this arm would be the right size to build something inspired by Escher.

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This Home-Made 6-Axis Robotic Arm is Quite the Looker

With a background in software engineering, [Kris Temmerman] decided to make a physical demonstration of his knowledge in the form of a six axis robotic arm… the final product is a delicious display of mechanical eye candy.

Built from mostly aluminum stock, [Kris] machined the bulk of his parts with a CNC mill which he picked up for cheap from China. These custom pieces coupled with some hefty stepper motors ensure the arm’s accuracy as it twists freely and slides along the gantry it’s mounted to. Though the majority of the arm is metal, the hand at the end of his robot was built with 3D printed parts and can be switched out with the future attachments [Kris] plans to design. This classic gripper piece is driven separately with its own Arduino brain controlling the individual servos in the fingers. loadcels

Each finger includes some load bearing sensors which [Kris] harvested from an old scale so that the gripper can tell whether or not it has a hold of an object without crushing it. To orchestrate the robot’s movement, he wrote some nice looking software in C++ which visualizes the inverse kinematics at work in each point of articulation. For the sake of demonstrating his creation in action, he whipped up a basic demo that can locate and move colored blocks laid at random on a surface. A small camera mounted on the hand determines the orientation of the blocks relative to the machine so that the wrist can rotate itself in the proper alignment in order to pick them up.

[Kris] documented the build of his robot in a fascinating speed video which includes footage of the finished arm in action at the end:

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The Un-Digital Robotic Arm

556When you think of a robotic arm, you’re probably thinking about digital control, microcontrollers, motor drivers, and possibly a feedback loop. Anyone who was lucky enough to have an Armatron knows this isn’t the case, but you’d still be surprised at how minimal a robotic arm can be.

[viswesh713] built a servo-powered robotic arm without a microcontroller, and with some interpretations, no digital control at all. Servos are controlled by PWM signals, with a 1 ms pulse rotating the shaft one way and a 2 ms pulse rotating the shaft the other way. What’s a cheap, popular chip that can easily be configured as a timer? Yep, the venerable 555.

The robotic arm is actually configured more like a Waldo with a master slave configuration. [viswesh] built a second arm with pots at the hinges, with the resistance of the pots controlling the signal output from a 556 dual timer chip. It’s extremely clever, at least until you realize this is how very early robotic actuators were controlled. Still, an impressive display of what can be done with a simple 555. Videos below.

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Measuring Magnetic Fields with a Robotic Arm


Learning how magnets and magnetic fields work is one thing, but actually being able to measure and see a magnetic field is another thing entirely! [Stanley’s] latest project uses a magnetometer attached to a robotic arm with 3 degrees of freedom to measure magnetic fields.

Using servos and aluminium mounting hardware purchased from eBay, [Stanley] build a simple robot arm. He then hooked an HMC5883L magnetometer to the robotic arm. [Stanley] used an Atmega32u4 and the LUFA USB library to interface with this sensor since it has a high data rate. For those of you unfamiliar with LUFA, it is a Lightweight USB Framework for AVRs (formerly known as MyUSB). The results were plotted in MATLAB (Octave is free MATLAB alternative), a very powerful mathematical based scripting language. The plots almost perfectly match the field patterns learned in introductory classes on magnetism. Be sure to watching the robot arm take the measurements in the video after the break, it is very cool!

[Stanley] has graciously provided both the AVR code and the MATLAB script for his project at the end of his write-up. It would be very cool to see what other sensors could be used in this fashion! What other natural phenomena would be interesting to map in three dimensions?

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Trainable Robotic Arm


When [Robert] realized Adafruit is now selling analog feedback servos, he decided he just had to make a programmable robot arm that could be trained like the commercially available Baxter robot.

The neat thing with the analog feedback servos is it takes all the complexity out of training a robot. All you have to do is put the robot in teach mode, physically move the robot’s joints to the positions you want, and save your program! Depending on your application, it certainly beats trying to work out the fun kinematics equations…

Anyway, the full guide available on Adrafuit’s learning system provides instructions on how to build your own arm from scratch (well, with a 3D printer) or how to replace the servos in a pre-made toy robotic arm you might already have sitting around. It’s very thorough and includes all the code you need for your Arduino too.

Stick around after the break to see how the robot works!

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Robot bartender mixes a mean drink


Back in 2002, [Dave] came across a discarded PUMA robotic arm and quickly set his sights on turning it into a bartender to serve drinks at his parties. Unfortunately, the arm was far from operational and being an engineer at his day job meant that working on this project was the last thing he wanted to do when he came home. So, progress trickled along slowly for years. He eventually announced a public deadline to spur him to action, and this years Pi(e) party saw the official debut of  ‘Sir-Mix-a-Bot’ – the robot bartender.

With the exception of having to build a new hand for it, mechanically, the arm was still in good condition when [Dave] found it. The electronics were another story however. Using some off the shelf components and his own know-how, [Dave] had to custom build all the controls. The software was written from scratch as well. (He lucked out and had help from his brother who was taking a Ph.D. program in robotics at the time).

As if the robotics aspect of the project wasn’t enough, [Dave] even created a beautiful custom table that both houses and displays his masterpiece. The quality of craftsmanship on his table alone is worth the time to check this out – there’s a short video after the break.

[Thanks Dave]

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