[David Brown]’s entry for The Hackaday Prize is a design for a tool that normally exists only as an expensive piece of industrial equipment; out of the reach of normal experimenters, in other words. That tool is a 6-axis micro manipulator and is essentially a small robotic actuator that is capable of very small, very precise movements. It uses 3D printed parts and low-cost components.
The manipulator consists of six identical actuators, each consisting of a single piece of SLS 3D printed nylon with a custom PCB to control a motor and read positional feedback. The motor moves the central pivot point of the 3D printed assembly, which in turn deflects the entire piece by a small amount. By anchoring one point and attaching the other, a small amount of highly controllable movement can be achieved. Six actuators in total form a Gough-Stewart Platform for moving the toolhead.
Interestingly, this 6-Axis Micro Manipulator is a sort of side project. [David] is interested in creating his own digital UV exposer, which requires using UV laser diodes with fiber optic pig tails attached. In an industrial setting these are created by empirically determining the optimal position of a fiber optic with regards to the laser diode by manipulating it with a micro manipulator, then holding it steady while it is cemented in place. Seeing a distinct lack of micro manipulators in anything outside of lab or industrial settings, and recognizing that there would be applications outside of his own needs, [David] resolved to build one.
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.
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: