Hacklet 30 – Robot Arm Projects

Robot arms – they do everything from moving silicon wafers to welding cars. Many a hacker has dreamt of having their own robot arm to serve them beer help them build projects. This week’s Hacklet features some of the best robot arm projects on Hackaday.io!

robotarm1We start with [4ndreas] who is building this incredible 3D Printable Robot Arm. Inspired by large industrial robots, [4ndreas] has given us an entirely 3D printable design. [4ndreas’] 3D design experience really shows here. This arm looks like it just finished work at a local assembly line! The arm is BIG too – printing the parts took him about a week, and used around 1.2kg of ABS filament! [4ndreas] has recently split the project off into two halves: his blue arm is driven by stepper motors, while the orange arm is a DC motor affair. Both of the arms can use his awesome gripper design. Check out the project page for videos of the arm in action!

6dofarmNext up is [Dan Royer] and his 6DOF Robot Arm. [Dan’s] didn’t want to spend upwards of $10,000 on an industrial arm, so he built his own from wood, plastic, and easily obtainable parts. As the name implies, the arm has 6 degrees of freedom. The electronics consist of beefy NEMA 17 stepper motors and a RUMBA controller, which was originally designed for 3D printers. Dan even created some novel encoder mounts. Each joint has an encoder, which will allow the robot to run as a closed loop system. [Dan] originally entered this arm in The Hackaday Prize 2014. While it didn’t get him to space, we’re betting it will be able to get him a soda!

MeArm

No robot arm Hacklet would be complete without featuring [ben.phenoptix] and the awesome MeArm. MeArm is a pocket-sized robot arm which uses tiny 9 gram servos for locomotion. It’s built from laser cut acrylic and standard hardware. We loved the MeArm so much that we featured it as one of the challenges in our Embedded Hardware Workshop in Munich. More recently, [Ben] and MeArm have had a great run on Kickstarter. Let’s hope those arms are good at stuffing, addressing, and mailing out packages!

 

owiFinally we have [Kenji Larsen] with Reactron material transporter. The material transporter is just a small part of [Kenji’s] larger Reactron project. It started with an OWI-535 robot arm. The OWI is really a toy – a plastic kit which builds an open loop DC motor driven arm. [Kenji] has put some serious time into modifying his particular arm. He experimented with molding his own potentiometers for each joint before settling on a printed circuit board based design. Once the new system was in place, he found that his resistors were good for about 10,000 cycles. Not bad for a modified toy!

There are quite a few robot arm projects we weren’t able to cover in this edition of The Hacklet – you can check them all out on our brand new Robot Arm Projects List!

That’s it for this Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Wood Shines In This SCARA Robotic Arm Project

[igarrido] has shared a project that’s been in the works for a long time now; a wooden desktop robotic arm, named Virk I. The wood is Australian Blackwood and looks gorgeous. [igarrido] is clear that it is a side project, but has decided to try producing a small run of eight units to try to gauge interest in the design. He has been busy cutting the parts and assembling in his spare time.

Besides the beautifully finished wood, some of the interesting elements include hollow rotary joints, which mean less cable clutter and a much tidier assembly. 3D printer drivers are a common go-to for CNC designs, and the Virk I is no different. The prototype is driven by a RAMPS 1.4 board, but [igarrido] explains that while this does the job for moving the joints, it’s not ideal. To be truly useful, a driver would need to have SCARA kinematic support, which he says that to his knowledge is something no open source 3D printer driver offers. Without such a driver, the software has no concept of how the joints physically relate to one another, which is needed to make unified and coherent movements. As a result, users must control motors and joints individually, instead of being able to direct the arm as a whole to move to specific coordinates. Still, Virk I might be what’s needed to get that development going. A video of some test movements is embedded below, showing how everything works so far.

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Project Giant Robot Arm

[Antoniopenamaria] is working on a giant robot arm. The beauty is, he’s posting a step-by-step guide (translated) of his entire journey from start to finish.

Why does he want to build a giant robot arm? Well, the idea originally came to him a few years ago when he was soldering something together and thought, “Man, I could really use another hand!”. So he got out a Meccano set, and built a mini robot arm. Nothing fancy, but it worked. From there, he decided to program it, and was able to teach it to move things from point A to point B… as he continued to expand on his little project, the vision grew, and now he’s working on project D.I.M.E.R. — a giant robot arm.

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Workbench Fume Extractor Sucks, But Has A Charming Personality

Shop safety is important regardless of what kind of work you do. For those of us soldering, that means extracting the noxious fumes released by heating up the solder flux used in our projects. [yesnoio] brings to us his own spin on the idea of a fume extractor, and it pulls out all stops with bells and whistles to spare.

The Workbench Assistant bot, as [yesnoio] describes it, is an integrated unit mounted atop a small tripod which extends over the working area where you’re soldering. Inside the enclosure are RGBW lights, an IR camera, and an Adafruit ItsyBitsy M4 Express driving the whole show. Aside from just shining a light onto your soldering iron though, the camera senses thermal activity from it to decide when to ramp up the server-grade fan inside which powers the whole fume extraction part of the project.

But the fun doesn’t stop there, as [yesnoio] decided to go for extra style points. The bot also comes with an amplified speaker, playing soundbites whenever actions such as starting or stopping the fan are performed. These soundbites are variations on a theme, like classic Futurama quotes or R2-D2’s chattering from Star Wars. The selectable themes are dubbed “performers”, and they can be reprogrammed easily using CircuitPython. This is a neat way to give your little desktop assistant some personality, and a fun way to break up the monotony of soldering up all those tiny SMD components on your next prototype.

If even after all this you still need more than just a cute little robotic voice beeping at you to convince you to get a fume extractor for your bench, then maybe some hands-on results could give you that little push you need. And if you’re already convinced and want to build your own, there is no shortage of DIY solutions we’ve seen around here at Hackaday. Check out this one in action after the break!

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LEGO-Based Robot Arm With Motion Planning

Robotic arms have found all manner of applications in industry. Whether its welding cars, painting cars, or installing dashboards in cars, robotic arms can definitely do the job. However, you don’t need to be a major automaker to experiment with the technology. You can build your own, complete with proper motion planning, thanks to Arduino and ROS.

Motion planning is important, as it makes working with the robotic arm much easier. Rather than having to manually specify the rotation of each and every joint for every desired movement, instead mathematics is used to figure everything out. End effectors can be moved, and software will figure out the necessary motions required to achieve the end results. This functionality is baked into Robot Operating System (ROS) and proves useful to this project.

The construction of this particular arm is impressive in its simplicity, too. It has 7 degrees of freedom, which is plenty to play with. The arm is built out of LEGO Technic components, which are attached to the servos with the addition of some 3D printed components. It’s a smart and simple way to integrate the servos into the LEGO world, and we’re surprised we don’t see this more often.

Robotic arms remain an area of active research; there are even efforts to allow them to self-correct in the event of damage. Video after the break.

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Robot Harvesting Machine Is Tip Of The Agri-Tech Iceberg

Harvesting delicate fruit and vegetables with robots is hard, and increasingly us humans no longer want to do these jobs. The pressure to find engineering solutions is intense and more and more machines of different shapes and sizes have recently been emerging in an attempt to alleviate the problem. Additionally, each crop is often quite different from one another and so, for example, a strawberry picking machine can not be used for harvesting lettuce.

A team from Cambridge university, UK, recently published the details of their lettuce picking machine, written in a nice easy-to-read style and packed full of useful practical information. Well worth a read!

The machine uses YOLO3 detection and classification networks to get localisation coordinates of the crop and then check if it’s ready for harvest, or diseased. A standard UR10 robotic arm then positions the harvesting mechanism over the lettuce, getting force feedback through the arm joints to detect when it hits the ground. A pneumatically actuated cutting blade then attempts to cut the lettuce at exactly the right height below the lettuce head in order to satisfy the very exacting requirements of the supermarkets.

Rather strangely, the main control hardware is just a standard laptop which handles 2 consumer grade USB cameras with overall combined detection and classification speeds of about 0.212 seconds. The software is ROS (Robot Operating System) with custom nodes written in Python by members of the team.

Although the machine is slow and under-powered, we were very impressed with the fact that it seemed to work quite well. This particular project has been ongoing for several years now and the machine rebuilt 16 times! These types of machines are currently (2019) very much in their infancy and we can expect to see many more attempts at cracking these difficult engineering tasks in the next few years.

We’ve covered some solutions before, including: Weedinator, an autonomous farming ‘bot, MoAgriS, an indoor farming rig, a laser-firing fish-lice remover, an Aussie farming robot, and of course the latest and greatest from FarmBot.

Video after the break:

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FarmBot Unveils New CNC Gardening Robot Models

Across the Northern Hemisphere it is now summer and the growing season is in full swing. Vigorous plants that will soon bear tasty fruit are springing forth from the soil, but unfortunately so are a lush carpet of weeds that require the constant attention of the gardener. “If only there were a machine that could take that on!” she cries, and as it happens she’s in luck.

The FarmBot is an open-source robotic vegetable grower able to take care of all aspects of sowing and tending a vegetable plot. We first saw them five years as a semifinalist in the first Hackaday Prize. This is a CNC machine for the raised beds of your backyard garden. Give it power, water, and a WiFi connection, and FarmBot goes into service planting, watering, weeding, and monitoring the soil. Now they’ve shipped over a thousand of their Genesis model and today have announced of a pair of new models that promise to make their technology more accessible than it ever has been.

FarmBot moisture sensor and watering head
FarmBot has a tool changer. Soil moisture sensor and watering heads are shown here.

In a nod to Tesla, FarmBot is calling this their “Model 3 moment” — the new offering is smaller and leaner to appeal to a wider customer base than their well-heeled, CNC machine loving, early adopters. The new FarmBot Express and Express XL models are now shipped 95% pre-assembled to lower the bar on getting up and running.  They cover two sizes of planting bed: 1.2m x 3m or 2.4m x 6m, with an MSRP of $2295/2795 although there is currently an $800 launch discount available.

For us, FarmBot is the success story of an early Hackaday Prize entrant. From a great idea and a functional prototype, the project has successfully made the transition to commercial viability and holds a genuine promise of making the world a better place by helping people grow some of their own produce. Who knows, in five years time it could be your idea that’s reaching commercial viability, we think you should enter the Hackaday Prize too!