With a drop in the price of materials and faster manufacturing, robots are becoming increasingly accessible to home hackers, robot enthusiasts, hobbyists, and students. As well as the simpler DIY robots and home help robot offerings — largely akin to Alexa on wheels — a growing class is industrial grade robots. These are mighty robots, miniaturized versions of those in the industrial space — they don’t have faces, they don’t greet you by name, and they won’t dance for you. But what they can do is introduce a range of increasingly complex functionalities to your creative pursuits.
One of the most interesting robots is the Microbot, an open-source desktop robot arm. It’s inspired by the famous ABB IRB 6700 industrial robot arm and brings affordability and accessibility to robotics.
According to Steve Xie, Creator of Mirobot:
“Our team is a group of industry experts who believe that robotics should be easily accessible to anyone. Our goal was to take the cost, size, and complexity out of industrial robotics and create an easy to use device for both beginners and advanced users. With Mirobot, robotics is easy and fun for everyone.”
Weighing 3.3 pounds, Mirobot is the smallest 6-axis industrial robot arm available today. It has a great level of movement and flexibility allowing it to rotate freely, 360° on both horizontal and vertical axes, and access more space than a 3 or 4-axis robot arms. The robot arm has the high precision of professional industrial robots and 0.2mm repeatability that ensures that every motion is precise and repeatable with its array of super-smooth stepper motors.
The Mirobot features a wide range of different swappable end effectors, including suction cup, universal ball gripper, micro servo gripper, and electromagnet head. It is through these that Mirobot can perform a number of automated tasks, including picking and placing, assembly, writing and drawing. The arm can also hold the GoPro and other mini cameras.
It includes OpenMV and computer vision code that can be used for facial recognition, QR code, and Bar code detection, shape detection, optical flow, and a variety of other advanced vision tasks.
Programming Is Optional But Worth the Effort
The Mirobot can be controlled via an app, via a joystick controller, or Mirobot studio. Unlike other robot arms, no special programming knowledge is necessary, thanks to a simple drag and drop interface.
You can, however, use Blockly, G Code and Python in our official script-writing software, or access to its API on your own by using C, C++, C#, and Java. The company makes mention of open-source, GRBL-based firmware and Mega2560-based control board schematics with the opportunity for customization through supporting ROS, V-rep, Webots, and more open-sourced platforms.
The only real downside to the Mirobot is the additional costs of the added components that make it really come alive. For example, to increase the range of effectors to a full dev kit including a sliding rail and conveyor belt increasing the cost from the base $335 to $1679, making the cost more than many comparable offerings. It’s worth noting that for home hobbyists; there are plenty of cheaper robot arms on the market. For example, the DIY 5-DOF Robotic Arm Kit for Arduino UNO R3 without all the bells and whistles retails for under $70, while LittleArm Big’s offerings cost $150 for the full DIY building experience. But Mirobot has created an offering that would foreseeably scale well in a small DIY hardware garage or workshop; it also lends itself to those seeking a slightly more advanced product in terms of capabilities. It will be interesting to see what’s next from the US-Chinese team at Wristline at any rate.
The Mirobot was fully funded in 1 hour 15mins upon launching and has raised over $200,000 USD, with 20+ days to go.