Robot arms have been lending a hand on production lines for decades, but handy as they are, that kind of help usually costs an arm and a leg. To get these tools into the hands of smaller businesses, UFactory has now unveiled the xArm, an entry-level robot arm designed to be affordable enough for those who might normally be left empty-handed.
What the xArm is put to work doing will depend on which of the three models is chosen. The xArm 5 Lite is the entry-level robot, with five joints, a 2 kg (4.4 lb) payload, and a specialty in pick-n-place tasks. The xArm 6 is the next step up, with a payload of up to 5 kg (11 lb), and six joints that give it more flexibility. And the top dog is the xArm 7, with a 3.5 kg (7.7 lb) payload, seven joints (seeing the pattern here?) and flexibility that UFactory says is on-par with a human arm.
All three arms have a reach of 691 mm (27.2 in), are wrapped in a carbon fiber shell to reduce their weight, and have universal mounts on the end, so different tools can be attached. Those tools include a vacuum-powered suction cup and a gripper, complete with a camera for better sensing. UFactory says the xArm is capable of repeating precise movements within 0.1 mm. For safety’s sake the xArm 6 and 7 also have built-in collision detection, stopping them dead in half a second if they bump into something or someone.
To make sure these tools are as accessible as they’re supposed to be, UFactory includes a software suite called xArm Studio to help people program the robots for the task at hand. Along with a basic block-based, drag-and-drop coding interface, users can also “teach” the robots by manually moving the arm into the desired positions. The Studio can run on laptops and tablets running Windows, iOS, Linux and Android.
The xArm follows in the footsteps of UFactory’s previous devices, the uArm Swift and Pro, which were aimed more at home use. Interestingly, the new models look like they’d make great stand-ins for Sawyer, the robot arm from Rethink Robotics – which unfortunately closed its doors just a few weeks ago. That said, Sawyer was much bulkier and far pricier, at almost US$30,000.
The xArm, on the other hand, starts at just $2,299 for the 5 Lite model, $4,999 for the xArm 6 and $5,999 for the xArm 7 – at least if you back the Kickstarter campaign. Eventual retail prices are expected to be about twice that for each, according to UFactory. Already the campaign has raked in nearly 10 times the goal amount with 28 days remaining. If all goes well, the xArm should be in backers’ hands by April 2019.