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UK start-up will sell six-axis collaborative robot for $4,600

19 October, 2015

A British start-up is developing a six-axis collaborative robot which it aims to sell for around £3,000 ($4,600). London-based Automata Technologies was set up earlier this year by two architects who spotted a gap in the market for affordable, easy-to-use robots while they were working on advanced manufacturing and construction techniques for the renowned architect, Zaha Hadid.

Automata recently won a global Innovation Challenge run by ABB Robotics and was one of three start-ups that ABB chose to fund and mentor from around 1,100 applicants.

By using 3D printing techniques, Automata has been able to progress through 16 hardware iterations of its robot – called Eva after a character in the Wall-E film – in just six months. It is even using 3D printing to produce mechanical elements such as bearings. One of its co-founders, Mostafa ElSayed, says that using traditional development techniques it would have taken around six weeks for each new prototype cycle.

ElSayed’s partner, Suryansh Chandra points out that current industrial robots “are designed for heavy industry tasks that require extreme power and precision. But people don’t work like that, and 93% of automatable tasks in manufacturing – such as machine-tending – are still done by people. We designed Eva to make automation simple, quick and affordable, so people can leave the menial work to Eva and focus on more intelligent tasks.”

The “plug-and-play” robot can carry a payload of up to 750g and has a 600mm reach. Its accuracy is said to be ±1mm and its repeatability 0.5mm. The 2.2kg arm can move at speeds of up to 100 degrees per second – equivalent to 1m/s at full outstretch. Unlike some other robots, Eva can operate through a full 360-degree hemisphere and can reach behind itself.

The arm will operate from a 12V supply and will have built-in control electronics as well as wireless and USB connections. To ensure safe operation, the robot’s software can sense if the arm hits an obstacle and can stop its movement within 16ms.

Alongside the hardware, Automata is developing easy-to-use graphical programming software. It will also possible to “teach” the arm to follow a path simply by guiding it by hand – other robots offering such “teach by example” programming typically cost more than £30,000 ($46,000).

Automata is also developing end-effectors for the robot as well as a gantry system to extend its operating range.

In addition to innovating in terms of robot hardware and software, Automata is also plans to sell its robots as a “service” using a subscription-based model. Users will pay a monthly amount (probably around $350) which will entitle them to software and hardware updates for their machines, as well as any servicing. “We are taking robots out of CapEx [capital expenditure] and putting them into OpEx [operational expenditure],” says ElSayed.

Because of the low costs of the robots, it will often be easier to replace a robot if any faults develop, rather than trying to repair it. This approach will also minimise downtime.

Automata plans to start a few pilot installations early in 2016 (it has already had more than 30 applicants) and, if the robot performs as hoped, it could go on sale by the middle of 2016. The company has already had interest from potential users in areas such as manufacturing, packaging, education and construction. Food and beverage applications are also potentially promising because the arm does not need lubricants and has a wide operating temperature range.

Mostafa ElSayed believes that the low-cost arm could open up new markets for robotics, especially in smaller companies that have not been able to afford to use robots in the past. “We’re not aiming to compete with high-end robot companies,” he adds.

“This truly is a game-changer for both robotics and the smaller manufacturer,” ElSayed declares. “Eva is a high-quality, high-spec robot that doesn’t require a technical expert to program it, and doesn’t cost the earth. Best of all, it will help growing businesses to save money.”

If all goes well, Automata hopes to sell several hundred Eva robots by the end of 2016, expanding to “thousands” by 2017. When it enters volume production, Automata will probably move to sub-contracted injection moulding processes to produce the robots’ high-strength, but lightweight, plastic bodies.




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