ShopArm: A Robot Arm for Makers and Small Business
ShopArm: A Robot Arm for Makers and Small Business

This project has already launched.

This is the ShopArm. It is a robot arm that can be trained to do many of the mundane jobs in your life. Such as always feeding the fish on time, prepping your toast, or being an automated 3rd hand in the shop.

We are on Kickstarter to fund the manufacture of the first round of ShopArms.

At Slant we build robots every day. Industrial robots, home robots, STEM robots. We have worked with or developed all of these.

Early in 2016 we were working with a large industrial robot for a client. A behemoth that could kill you if you got too close at the wrong time. While working with this arm and others like it we realized that we could make an arm 10x cheaper and 100x easier to use.

Working on that premise, we started developing the ShopArm. A robot for basically anyone, who would like a little physical automation in their life.

We had three requirements when we started.

  • It had to cost less than $1000
  • Makers had to be able to build it in their garage
  • It could be used by anyone without experience

We achieved all of these.

We identified the components that could make it affordable. We determined the design that would make it reliable. And we found the functionalities that would make it easy and useful.

After several months of working on the project on the side we are ready to release the ShopArm into the world. So builders, small business owners, and overworked cookie decorators can start using it.

Applications  

  • Education 
  • Small business
  • Research 
  • Packing small parcels 
  • Preparing Mail 
  • Re-Writing Personalized Notes 
  • Decorating Pastries 
  • Automatic Sorting 
  • Camera Platform 
  • Grab the Toast when Done 
  • Feed the Pet 
  • Prep Drinks at a Party 
  • Demonstration 
  • Tool Retrieval 
  • 3rd Hand Workbench Assistant 
  • It's just cool to have

Design

Inspired by 3D printers

Have you noticed how you can get a 3D printer for $300? We decided to take a cue from 3D printers when we designed the ShopArm. Inspired by 3D printers, and how they have come to be made affordably, we utilized many of the methodologies and a few of the parts that are used in these machines.

3D Printed

We also decided to utilize 3D printing to manufacture the ShopArm. We have a farm of the printers on hand for just such production so it was a no-brainer. Every plastic component of the ShopArm is 3D printed. And we will be releasing the designs during this campaign.

3D printing also has the advantage of making the ShopArm very light, but still strong. The mechanical properties created by good design in 3D printing are great.

Interchangeable Grippers

The ShopArm has one primary gripper. But we have built several others for various tasks.

Here are a few.  

  • Pen clamp - holds a sharpie for drawing 
  • Hook - self-explanatory 
  • Suction Cup - pick and place smooth things 
  • Liquid Dispenser - Pour all Night 
  • PCB Board Holder - Help at the workbench 

Of course there are many others that can and will be created. That's partly why we are releasing the designs to the arm. We can't create all the grippers that people will want, so we will let them build them.

Any end effector can be applied in less then a minute with just two screws.

Precision

The ShopArm has a repeatability of less than a millimeter (.5 mm to be precise, and getting better). But why does that matter? If you are feeding the fish or topping off drinks at a party your precision just needs to be less than a few inches. Well, in the future we are going to continue to add software to ShopArm, some of that software will allow ShopArm to perform 3D printing and laser engraving, which do need higher precision. It is also nice to take some pride in your work and do a dang good job.

Software

The ShopArm software is quick to install and easy to use. It can be installed on Linux or Windows computers in a couple of minutes. From there all you have to do is plug a USB cable into the ShopArm and start using it.

Drawing

The UI of the ShopArm lets you record a few individual waypoints and motions. But if you would like to create a highly custom trajectory, like handwriting, all you have to do is start writing. Click in the workspace of the arm and drag. It will record the drawing. You can't get much easier than that.

The only problem thus far has been that the arm is more precise than the user, showing all the imperfections in our writing as we draw with the mouse. We are working on smoothing out the recording as well as adding the capability to import images.

Visual tracking

The UI is pretty easy to use. But it does require that you have a screen nearby. That's a bit unhandy. It is also ungainly to control the arm through a broad range of motions one point at a time. So we have started creating a vision tracking program. All you need is a tracking marker and a few basic gestures to train the arm. It doesn't get much easier than literally showing the arm what you want it to do.

Speech

The Speech module for the ShopArm only has a few simple commands. This was meant to be used by someone who wants a real third hand. Having the ShopArm to move your work to a better position or even hold a camera is incredibly useful. We are all building one for each of our workstations.

Playback and Looping

Robots are great at repetitive tasks. So, obviously, we built repetition in. Once you show the ShopArm what you want it to do, you can make it do it for infinity. Maybe you have a a few boxes that need filling, or a bunch of invitations that need stamps. The ShopArm could save you a lot of effort with just a couple minutes of training. Show it what to do and then leave it.

Electronics

The ShopArm is controlled by an Arduino Mega. This keeps the arm simple and easy to modify. The main computer that we use is a Raspberry Pi. But our software can be downloaded onto any Windows or Linux computer.

What you Get

General Specs

  • DOF - 4
  • Weight - 6 lbs
  • Payload - 0.6 lbs
  • Motors - Nema 17 Geared Stepper
  • Position Repeatability - 0.5 mm
  • Materials: PLA and Aluminum
  • Power Supply - 12 V 5A DC
  • Gripper - 3D printed Micro-servo Actuated
  • Rotation Range - 360 Degrees
  • Controller - Arduino Mega
  • Communication - UART
  • Software: Graphical waypoint control, visual tracking, speech

$5 - Thanks

You'll get a shout out on Twitter with a thanks for your support. You will also be listed on our website backer page.

$95 - LittleArm

LittleArm is actually a project that we created in mid-2016. It is a 3D printed Arduino controlled robot arm that you can train with our free desktop software.

$450 - ShopArm Mechanical

ShopArm with all the motors and mechanical components that you need to build the arm. It does not include any control electronics or the gripper. Assembly Required.

$525 - ShopArm Basic Kit

All the mechanical and electronic components that you need to start using the ShopArm. Includes the Arduino, control shield, power supply, and gripper. Just assembly and then plug into a computer

$600 - ShopArm Basic Assembled

Ironically it is the same as the Basic Kit except it is assembled.

$675 - ShopArm Pro Kit

All the electronics and mechanics with a Raspberry Pi and camera pre-installed with software that you can start using. A fully self-contained unit that you can train and design new software for. Assembly Required

$750 - ShopArm Pro Assembled

Camera, gripper, Arduino, arm, all ready to go and fully assembled. Plug in the Raspberry Pi add a monitor and mouse and then start using it.

Risks and challenges

We have built multiple products in the past. And we have done multiple Kickstarters. When we delivered the LittleArm we were a full month or more ahead of schedule deliverying the product. This project is not going to be any different.

We have one custom circuit board. It is all ready to go. But the there is a chance that our manufacturer makes a mistake and delays the orders a few weeks. That is is the worst case scenario.

The software foundation is done. We are going to clean it up a bit more and then release it.

The design of the arm is done. We are just going to add a few organizational loops into the design to better manage the wires on the arm but that is all. (They hang more that we would like.)

All other parts are ready to order. That is just a matter of saying "Go."

Concerning the 3D printed components. We have a lot of experience in 3D printing for larger scale production. That is, in fact, a part of the business. We know how to make the parts in bulk. The only thing we might have to do there is order a couple more printers.

We have done all of this before. The ShopArm has very few points of vulnerability which we can't immediately address. This is not our first rodeo. Our team is ready to get it all done

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