Handibot is an “Open Innovation” project. We are attempting something a little different here, both in terms of developing the Handibot Smart Tool, and in terms of manufacturing it in a more distributed and participatory fashion.
Our intention is that Handibot be a complete “open innovation platform”. It will be an evolving project and a manufactured product whose hardware and software specifics are openly shared with a community of users, collaborators, and developers. This approach is a forthright experiment on our part – an expression of our interest and enthusiasm for moving towards more rational, environmentally and technologically appropriate approaches to product development and manufacturing. We support “open-source” as a methodology because we believe it is the best way for small companies, small groups, and individual entrepreneurs to leverage collaborative power to innovate and remain competitive. We believe small companies and distributed manufacturing using digital fabrication technologies offer one of the most attractive scenarios for our common future … and that’s why we’re committed to evolving Handibot in this manner.
Handibot App Development and Fabrication Software. We are working to create open software tools for those developing Apps for Handibots.
Handibot App Development and a Digital Fabrication Motion Platform (FabMo)
We figure that by ourselves we might come up with a few good ideas for how to put Handibots or “Smart Tools” to work – and, we do hope to release a number of general-use Apps – but we believe that the community of users will be a deeper source for creative ideas, and that interested and motivated developers will have a lot more capability to innovate compelling and useful software tools and accessories. That’s what the App development process is all about.
For the tool user, Handibot Apps will replace the difficult work-flow of creating and drawing a shape or cut in a CAD program and then using a CAM program to generate a tool-path for it. Having to master both CAD and CAM is what makes it hard for many people to put CNC to use (of course, learning about cutters and how to hold down material add a bit of challenge too). So, the App will create the tool-path file to send to the Handibot – replacing the difficult CAD/CAM process. The Apps’ functionality for the user will generally be to make the process of defining the cutting and machining for a job or task, EASIER – easier than engaging in the full CAD/CAM process that is so daunting to many who have considered and fled from CNC – especially when compared to the apparent “click to print” ease of 3D printing.
Our introduction to how App development will work and how you can get involved is now described in a document that is available on our Github site. In this introduction we also describe the role of our new, open-source, digital fabrication platform (FabMo) that runs the tool and creates the environment for developer App creation. We believe it will become an evolving, open-source standard for the control of digital fabrication equipment.
Hardware. Interested in our development of Handibot prototypes? Want to get involved in development of the tool?
- 1. Handibot Design Concepts and Philosophy
- 2. Handibot Components
- 3. Handibot Production Roadmap for Open/Distributed Manufacturing
- Inspiration (Credits)
1. Handibot Design Concepts and Philosophy
Our first design priority has been to create a development platform. The Handibot platform is an open design that because of its modularity and materials can readily evolve. Indeed, all the structural and housing aspects of the tool can be produced with the tool itself. Design iterations can be achieved using the same digital fabrication cutting methods that are used to make it (e.g. cut from HDPE with no expensive molds or high volume production runs). For convenience, Handibot tools will be most easily produced on a slightly larger CNC, but it will be possible for one Handibot tool to cut a new version of its own primary structural parts to produce the next variation (it’s not so much self-replicating, as it is a self-morphing tool).
This type of design also makes it amenable to production using a distributed manufacturing model such as 100kGarages.com, where digital fabrication can be used to locally produce the structural components of the tool, that are combined with a set of modular motion components and electronics (see distributed production plans below).
Our second design priority: to pack as much capability and power as possible into a compact, portable tool.
We did not want to limit the evolution of the tool or the creativity of those developing applications and accessories for it by initially compromising in order to get a low cost. We fully expect that as production volumes increase and costs of the commodity, mechanical components are reduced, that the price of a Handibot tool will come down to near $1000. But first, during the early evolution of the tool, we want it to be able to do anything that is asked of it. The Handibot tool is built from work-proven, drive and motion modules of ShopBot’s Desktop CNCs – now tested for many years at demanding real-world jobs. The Handibot tool is capable of high precision cutting and machining of plastic, aluminum, and wood. It has 6 potential axes of control and lots of I/O so that new accessories for capabilities like rotary axis turning and automatic re-position indexing can be developed. It is a tool ready for a wide range of jobs.
2. Handibot Components
Handibot has a modularity that is convenient for thinking about its construction as well as for planning and transition through several stages of production.
- 2.1. Exo-frame and related components (self-morphing)
- 2.2. Fabricated mechanical components
- 2.3. Commodity motion system mechanical components and motors
- 2.4. Electrical harness
- 2.4.1. Primary electricals
- 2.4.2. Control Board and Control Card
- 2.5. Accessories
Reference design files are posted on Github. To easily explore the digital model of the current version of the tool, visit the Handibot project on GrabCAD.
3. Handibot Production Roadmap for Open/Distributed Manufacturing
3.1 Making the First Handibot Power Tools at ShopBot
ShopBot is a small technology company. For almost 20 years we have been the leader in making digital fabrication tools accessible and affordable for individuals and small shops. There are thousands of ShopBot CNCs working away today in small businesses and larger factories around the world. Handibots are built and shipped from our facility in North Carolina.
3.2 Evolving an Open Manufacturing System
We think the Handibot power tool is a really exciting new kind of tool. As importantly, we see its development and production as an opportunity to explore a new approach to product evolution and manufacturing based on digital fabrication and today’s technology tools and interconnected communities. As has been described by many, the empowering and democratizing effect of digital technologies can create new opportunities for small shop productivity that offer attractive jobs and careers in a new model of industrial activity. We want to make a lot of that happen with Handibot … while driving the cost of the technology even lower.
Why have we focused on local and/or distributed manufacturing of Handibots and are not just offshoring large batch production? First, we are interested in stimulating small, distributed manufacturing operations that help create new life-style opportunities for people who want to produce things. Handibot is a product-project well suited for competitive production in a new industrial revolution world. There are several components of the Handibot which are motion-system commodity items. As we are able to purchase these items in larger and larger volumes from anywhere, the cost of a Handibot will be significantly reduced. The relative cost of the body and frame and assembly of the tool is low, and we believe that current digital fabrication technology will allow it to be done anywhere, in small shops, at realistically competitive prices. Yes, we could freeze the design and create an injection-molded version that would save a bit on the cost of the tool, but in doing so, we would eliminate the opportunity for continued evolution of the tool as a product. Sure we already have a lot of ideas about CNC and how to use these new tools. But this is a tool and concept whose potential applications go well beyond the imaginations of any individual or small group … and we are looking forward to seeing the expression of others vision and creativity in the Handibot as it evolves. We are looking forward to a production model that supports that evolution.
Read more about Handibot distributed production in a recent blog.
Inspiration for the Handibot tool comes from a lot of directions, not the least of which is ShopBot’s 20-year agenda to make digital fab equipment accessible to everyone. We have been particularly influenced by the students in Neil Gershenfeld’s “Machines that Make” course at MIT. This class emphasizes digital fab tools bootstrapping the next generation of digital fab tools … and of course, that’s what we’re up to with Handibot. Some really creative small digital tools have been designed by the group in Neil’s lab and Neil’s classes. In particular there has been: Jonathan Ward’s MTM Snap, a form factor for Handibot, which, in collaboration with Saul Griffith and Mike Estee at OtherLab, developed into the OtherMill mini mill and the OtherCutter Cardboard cutter; Nadya Peek and Ilan Moyer’s Pop Fab portable-cnc-machine-in-a-suitcase; and Ilan Moyer’s, Alec Rivers’, and Fredo Durandof’s (of MIT) position-correcting router, which has become Shaper.
The Handibot Smart Tool has been an exciting project for ShopBot. It differs from other small CNCs because of its task-based, job-oriented focus and portability. It also differs because it is built from no-compromise, work-tested components used in our Desktop CNC tool. The Desktop was designed by ShopBot’s Development team, headed by Gordon Bergfors. Early work on the Handibot prototype was done by Matt Schmitz, with more recent development by David Bryan, Ted Hall, and Brian Owen. Ryan Stumer has headed-up development of the open-source, digital fabrication platform, FabMo, that runs Handibot and its Apps. Brian Moran (Vectric Ltd.) gave Handibot its name. Finally, it is Bill Young’s continuous evangelism for putting small but powerful tools in everyone’s hands and his role in the development of 100kGarages.com that provides the system for our goal of open and distributed manufacturing.
Handibot® is a trademark of ShopBot Tools, Inc.