Best DIY Robotic Arm to build from your home

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“MIT’s AutoSaw takes the risk and skill out of creating custom furniture, so that even you can do it without losing an unnecessary number of limbs”
-as said by Evan Ackerman, IEEE Spectrum

AutoSaw is a robot-assisted carpentry device which is basically a robotic arm that could make the creation of custom furniture and fittings safer, easier and cheaper. You can simply select a template from the software (chair, table etc.) and adjust the size & shape, the robotic arm will then autonomously select and saw the wooden materials to the correct size.

With such kind of advanced mechatronics devices being developed, long gone are the days where a lot of industries needed humans to carryout precise, dangerous and delicate activities. Now with the latest advancements in the robotics technology, a lot of developments came in the mechatronics industry too.

“In a few years from now, builders might go to their job site, punch a number into the software, and the robots will cut and bring them the pieces they need”
-as said by Lipton to The Verge

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With such a great buzz going in the field of mechatronics, a lot of students are interested to build their own robotic arm and wanted to know more about the industrial robotics.

Even we have experienced this trend when the robotic arm online course that we launched was a great success and a lot of students built their own robotic arms at home using the online course and the kit we shipped to them.

On my interaction with some of the students enrolled for our robotic arm course, I found that a lot of them initially tried to build a robotic arm completely on their own but failed in doing so. Due to the involvement of complex hardware parts, servo calibration, programming logics, integration of sensors and actuating modules etc., building a robotic arm is a lot tougher than it looks.

So, in this article I am suggesting some tips and methodologies which you can use to build your own robotic arm

What are the pre-requisites to build your first robotic arm?

As the robotic arm involves a complex structure, you need some pre-requisite knowledge to build your own robotic arm successfully. Since it has both mechanical and electronics concepts, you need to learn about them to understand the working mechanism of robotic arm.
Some of the theoretical concepts that you need to learn before starting to build robotic arm are:

  1. Robotic Arm Schematics: The major parts involved in robotic arm are manipulators, end effectors and the processor. Manipulators act as the body of the robotic arm, end effector is the tool that is present at the end of the robotic arm which is used to perform some specific tasks like painting, drilling, pick & place etc. and finally processor is the one that act as the brain of the system. You need to first decide the type of robotic arm that you wish to build and design the schematics accordingly.
  2. Robot Kinematics: Kinematics is the study of motion of bodies without considering the cause of it. And to build a robotic arm you need to learn about the robot kinematics which gives the relationship between the positions, velocities & accelerations of links and joints. You need to also learn the concepts of forward & inverse kinematics and its mathematical formulation before designing your robotic arm.
  3. Servo Motor Concepts: Since servo motors have linear angular movements and can be used to actuate any material attached to its arm, it is preferred for building robotic arm projects. It also follows a closed-loop servo mechanism that uses position feedback to control its initial motion and final position. You need to understand the concepts of servo motors working before starting to build your robotic arm. The ability to power several high torque servos at the same time is a well known challenge for all those who have tried to work with them in the past. They need a lot of power and an external source (Don’t use Arduino to power them. That’ll cause damage to the Arduino).
  4. DH Parameters: It is very hard to create a homogenous transformation matrix for complex configuration. Since DH parameter collapses the 6 variables (3 rotation & 3 translation) into 4 link parameters, it facilitates easier setting up of XYZ coordinate frames. So you need to learn about the DH parameters prior to the designing of robotic arm.

There is also another well-known challenge of interference between multiple servo where the servos vibrate randomly even when signal is not supplied to the servos. This challenge needs to be overcome as well.

Which embedded platform is suitable for building robotic arm?

Processor is the most integral part of the robotic arm which acts as the brain of the system and controls the actuation. Although there are a lot of processors available in the market, Arduino Uno will be the ideal embedded platform for you to get started.

As Arduino Uno is an open source hardware and uses simple C++ programming, it will serve to be a very good platform to build your first robotic arm. Before starting to build your robotic arm, you need to understand the Arduino architecture and its configuration.

Also learning Arduino programming and practicing some basic programming will greatly assist you in building your own robotic arm. You can do simple exercises on driving servo motors with Arduino to understand more about the servo and Arduino integration.

What are the different ways to control a robotic arm?

The robotic arm can be actuated semi-autonomously by giving some commands. These commands can be given to robotic arm in multiple ways by using some modules. The most commonly used ones are:

  1. Gesture Controlled: You can build a robotic arm that can be controlled via your hand gestures. You will be needing an ADXL Accelerometer sensor to facilitate the gesture controlled actuation. This sensor will have multiple axes & gives varied values to the microcontroller depending on its orientation and the robotic arm will be programmed to actuate accordingly.
  2. Bluetooth Controlled: You can also build a robotic arm that can receive commands through Bluetooth communication and actuate accordingly. You will be needing a HC-05 Bluetooth module to set up the connection between a user and the system. You will be able to control the robotic arm actuation by sending commands through an Android App via bluetooth.
  3. Remote Controlled: It is also possible to build a robotic arm that can be controlled via a remote. For this, you will be needing an RF module to establish the connection between remote and the robotic arm. You can simply control the robotic arm actuation through switches or joystick present in the remote.

Any software requirements?

Programming the robotic arm is an integral part to complete the project successfully. There are some softwares which you need to use to make your robotic arm function properly. These include:

  1. Robotic Arm Simulator: Since forward & inverse kinematics and DH parameters are used to design the robotic arm, it will be very difficult to perceive and visualize the transformation in 3D. Using a simulator will ease of these difficulties and help you to visualize the robotic arm actions in 3D. RoboAnalyzer is one of the most widely used robotic arm simulation software which you can easily download from Google.
  2. Arduino IDE: You need Arduino IDE software to write and upload the programming logics to your Arduino board. You can easily download this software directly from their official website.
  3. Servo Controller App: If you are using a bluetooth module to control the actuation of the robotic arm, then you need an app to control the servo motors. There are default apps available for free which you can download from app store and connect with the bluetooth module that is integrated with the robotic arm.

How to get the necessary kits to build a robotic arm at home?

Getting the right components to build your robotic arm project is not easy, as there are lot of components involved. Also some of the components are not readily available and need to be custom made. You will be needing the following components to build your very own robotic arm,

  1. Robotic Arm Manipulator
  2. Robotic Arm End Effector
  3. Arduino Uno
  4. HC-05 Bluetooth or ADXL Gesture or RF module
  5. Breadboard & Connecting Wires
  6. Batteries and external power mechanism to provide adequate power to the servos

From the above list, you can get the components like the Arduino Uno, sensor modules and wires easily. You can either order those components online or purchase from your local market.

But the mechanical components (manipulator & end effector) is not very easy to get, as it is not a standard component and the size & shape of it varies across projects. You can either design the components and get it manufactured or you can use a 3D printer to print all the components.

A lot of enthusiasts try to come up with their own designs to develop manipulators and end effectors but that’s were mechanical design concepts come into picture. They realise how tough it is and appreciate mechanical designing after attempting and failing in this!

Hope you got some good suggestions that will help you to build a robotic arm.

Remember, you should not only build a robotic arm but also learn while building it. Since there are a lot of complex concepts involved in it, learning while building your own robotic arm project will help you to get acquainted with industrial robotics.

If you want to build your own robotic arm but don’t know where to start, we at Skyfi Labs have developed an innovative learning methodology through which you can learn to build a robotic arm right from your home. With the complete hardware kits shipped to you and 1-1 technical assistance provided, learning to build your very own robotic arm will never be tough.

Do let us know, what you think is the best DIY Robotic Arm project to build by commenting below.

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