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Dexter is a robotic arm powered by an FPGA supercomputer. 5+ axis, trainable and a friendly UI.  It becomes your personal factory.
Dexter is a robotic arm powered by an FPGA supercomputer. 5+ axis, trainable and a friendly UI. It becomes your personal factory.
112 backers pledged $108,885 to help bring this project to life.

About

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$108,885

112

What is a prototype?

A prototype is a preliminary model of something. Projects that offer physical products need to show backers documentation of a working prototype. This gallery features photos, videos, and other visual documentation that will give backers a sense of what’s been accomplished so far and what’s left to do. Though the development process can vary for each project, these are the stages we typically see:

Proof of Concept

Explorations that test ideas and functionality.

Functional Prototype

Demonstrates the functionality of the final product, but looks different.

Appearance Prototype

Looks like the final product, but is not functional.

Design Prototype

Appearance and function match the final product, but is made with different manufacturing methods.

Production Prototype

Appearance, function, and manufacturing methods match the final product.

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Prototype Gallery

These photos and videos provide a detailed look at this project’s development.

Dexter on the way to Google

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Dexter Draws HD Name

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FST News covers Dexter:

Barnacules reviews Dexter:

Overview

Our goal is to empower people to build what they want when they need it. We believe this can be done by creating an automation technology sharing community that owns all of the necessary building blocks to realize a complete personal micro-factory. To this end we have created an efficient, precise, brilliant, sensitive, extensible, buildable,  and programmable 5+ axes motion platform (a robot arm we affectionately call Dexter).  We have shared all of the source code and manufacturing data under the most permissible open source license (GPL3). What we are trying to do with this Kickstarter project is to find the first tier of collaborators. If you have a passion for robotics and automation, making and tinkering, 3D printing and programming, or you just want to build your own home business building robots, join us.

Who we are

We are a collection of like minded individuals with lots of experience building technology products and bringing them to market. Kent Gilson is a serial entrepreneur and inventor extraordinaire with 30+ years developing deep technology products including FPGA supercomputers and hardware programming languages. Christopher Fry has been a​​​​t MIT for decades, most recently a research scientist at the ​media lab​.​​ He has created many computer languages and development environments. He has a passion for teaching and believes in maker-centric economies as a sustainable model for human flourishing. Hampden Kuhns, a Carnegie Mellon engineering PhD and serial entrepreneur. Todd Enerson is a published scientist with a Biochemistry degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison, 20 plus years in science, sales and marketing.  Richard Fu, Investment banking background, renewable energy focus, bridging Wall Street capital with the sharing economy. Gary Kochis is a 30 year technology veteran, a multi talented hardware, software, and applied mathematics engineer and an experienced entrepreneur. James Wigglesworth is a Mechanical Engineering grad student with a background in robotic arm kinematics. His undergrad and grad research involved using robotic arms to print PCBs and antennas on complex curved surfaces.

What we have done

We have spent the last 5 years (and our collective fortunes) building nearly a dozen prototypes to arrive at what we think is the necessary combination of capabilities to enable a revolution in personal automation and human to machine/human to human (haptic) collaboration (resistance is futile). Lets break it down.

5+ Axes motion platform (but don't you need 6?)

We get this question a lot. The answer is: it depends on what you want to do. Three axes are enough if you want to do things on a horizontal plane like conventional 3D printing, laser cutting and pallet moving. Add a fourth and you have movement and positioning on many planes. Or, use the forth as a filament extruder and you have a 3D printer (more like a 2.5-D printer). Add a fifth axis and now you get any 3D position with the end pointing in any direction. This can be used to draw/drill/laser/poke on any complex geometry. Or, use the fourth axis to keep parallel to a plane and use the fifth to rotate. Now you have a traditional planar pick-and-place motion system. In reality there are uses for robots with many more axes than 6, think grippers and whole hands as end effectors. We stopped at 5 and added expansion capability in the form of a sixth motor controller and position sensor that is useful for extruders, vacuum generation, a sixth axis etc. and an Arduino embedded in the tool head that can be used to drive multiple servos, sensors of all kinds and... You get the idea.  Also, the motion platform is scalable.  Build it big or build it small, change a few length parameters and our software will just work. 

 

Six channel motor controller
Six channel motor controller

 

Dexter CAD data from OnShape
Dexter CAD data from OnShape

 

Efficient

By using a FPGA supercomputer to solve the precision control problem, we were able to optimize the physical and electrical architecture of the robot to minimize the mass and therefore the power requirements. All 5 of the stepper motors are placed at strategic locations to lower the center of mass and to statically balance the arm. This way almost all of the torque of the motors is used to move the payload not the robot. Also, we generate all of the voltages needed for the robot from a single supply that can range from as little as 7 volts all the way to 60 volts. 

Efficient:  At 20 watts, all the power you need to run 24/7 comes from the sun.
Efficient: At 20 watts, all the power you need to run 24/7 comes from the sun.

 

Precise

One of the breakthroughs we achieved is the ability to very accurately measure the deflection of each axis and do it quickly enough to use this information to control all of the motors simultaneously. We have measured a 50 micron repeatability (worst case scenario) on a robot that is built with 3D printed parts.

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Brilliant

 All of this precision and sensitivity could not be done without the computational capabilities of the FPGA supercomputer and an efficient and productive FPGA hardware programming language. We are using an FPGA that has the capacity to perform hundreds of billions of signal processing calculations per second--that's like having thousands of Arduino's. The FPGA brain also has 2 ARM-9 processors running a full Ubuntu Linux OS. You can think of Dexter as a personal computer with a massively parallel real-time sensory cortex that can move and interact with its surroundings.   

MicroZed FPGA board
MicroZed FPGA board

 

                                        
Code disk position calculator
Code disk position calculator

Sensitive 

Dexter has a sense of touch that rivals humans. In fact, Dexter's ability to measure the position of each axis is far more sensitive than the robot's motors are able to move. This extra measurement quality combined with algorithms to calculate force over time result in a force sensitivity that can be used for many applications. This force information can be shared between two Dexters to transmit forces over distance and scale--think haptic faxing--or it can be used to simulate computer generated physical environment--haptic video game controllers--or it can be used to sense the amount of force Dexter is applying to a work piece and adjust it to apply just the right amount. This force sensitivity is also used to make it simple to capture position information. By moving the robot to zero out the forces it feels, Dexter essentially follows the movement of its human operator.  

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Buildable

Dexter was designed to be manufactured using 3D printed parts from a low cost hobby printer and to minimize the number of specialty parts needed to complete the build while still maintaining structural integrity. 

Dremel 3D printer and Dexter's parts that were printed on it
Dremel 3D printer and Dexter's parts that were printed on it

 

The trick to using a low-cost 3D printed part as a  robust production part is to reinforce the Z dimension with standard carbon fiber extrusions, cut to size, and steel--we use finish nails.

3D printed External Gear.
3D printed External Gear.

 

X-Ray of External Gear showing the reinforcement from carbon fiber and steel
X-Ray of External Gear showing the reinforcement from carbon fiber and steel

 

Skeleton of the external gear showing just the bones.
Skeleton of the external gear showing just the bones.

One of the reasons for making the parts using 3D printing is to make them reproducible by the robot. With the addition of an extruder end effector (in development), Dexter will be able to fabricate and assemble a majority of the subsystems needed to construct a second Dexter.

Extensible

A strong, precise robot needs tools to make things. And it needs to be able to change tools in the middle of a job. This is why we have given Dexter an interface that combines a two part tool changer with spring loaded connectors for signaling and power. The ability to perform different processing steps during the same "job" enables what we call heterogeneous direct digital manufacturing (HDDM).  With one piece of equipment you can automatically change tools and use additive, subtractive, and assembly processes. 

Tool changer interface
Tool changer interface

 

Pen tool attached
Pen tool attached

Programmable

Building complexity into hardware is expensive. That's why we push as much complexity as possible into software. Our Dexter Development Environment runs on your PC (Windows, Mac or Linux). It provides a Development Environment for creating "Jobs" for making things. DDE can control many different types of materials, end effectors and processes because it is based on a general purpose programming language, JavaScript (the primary programming language of the web). We augment JavaScript with high level classes and methods for describing jobs that automate a number of different processes to make things. Our automatic tool changer enables switching of end effectors on the robot arm to allow complex builds without human intervention. But sometimes human intervention is necessary. Our Job language contains instructions for humans too, so that a process can be defined with discrete human instructions embedded in the process DDE can also synchronize multiple Dexter's should they be needed for especially complex builds.

Is all this hard to learn? Usually. But we've compressed decades of programming language and Development Environment design to make DDE as simple as possible (but no simpler!).  The documentation is included in the environment, along with "click help" on every character in our text editor.  We have about a hundred examples of code snippets to get you on the right track and speed both learning and implementation. Watch our DDE video to see exactly how.

We have shipped our first kits and robots and now need you!  Creating a community that shares will allow for further development.  With your support we can take Dexter to the next level, provide the education and have a secure portal for sharing.

Haddington Dynamics has been seen in these publications
Haddington Dynamics has been seen in these publications

What you get

Fully Assembled DexterArm

 

Dexter ships without skin.  We have prototyped several different skins (printed and vacuum form)
Dexter ships without skin. We have prototyped several different skins (printed and vacuum form)

This fully assembled Dexter is ready to go out of the box. It connects to your PC via ethernet and is fully programmable with our open source development environment, DDE. It comes with an automatic tool changer interface, ready to accept any new tools that we develop, are developed by the community, or that you can come up with yourself. These tools will allow you to do so much more than just a 3D printer. DDE has extensive built-in help but we will be putting out tutorials to make your experience as smooth as possible. Dexter has all the capabilities of conventional robotic arms like moving in Cartesian without the price tag (seriously look up the cost of industrial robotic arms). Plus it has capabilities that a lot of those arms don't have. Such as computing power, precision, and force sensing capabilities.

Dexter Kit with Printed Parts

The kit includes:

  • Main FPGA board, 5 optical interface boards, and 1 motor controller board 
  • 5  Stepper motors
  • 3 Harmonic gears
  • All Carbon fiber components
  • All 3D printed parts
  • Wiring harness
  • 30 watt Power supply 
Assembly Components
Assembly Components

 

NERD STUFF

Specs:

  • Weight:  6.5 Kg
  • Power:  20 Watts (7-60 volts; Battery, Solar or Wall)
  • Arm Length:  670 mm
  • Build Envelope:  1m Spherical Build Envelope
  • Payload:  1 Kg
  • Connectivity:  WiFi, USB and 10bit GPIO
  • Repeatability:  50 microns
  • Stepping: 5 microns
  • DOF:  5 +
  • Base Rotation (L0):  Infinite
  • Pivot Joint (L2):  360 degree
  • End Joint (L3):  300 degree
  • Angle Joint (L4):  270 degree
  • Rotate Joint (L5):  360 degree
  • Speed:  70 degrees per second
  • Control Software:  Dexter Development Environment (DDE) and Linux Command Line (embedded UBUNTU)
  • FPGA Code:  Open Source
  • Other Features:  Ubuntu Linux on Robot

 

Bonus video: digitally hard

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Risks and challenges

Most of the supply chain risks are mitigated by the fact we are fabricating most of the parts using 3D printers. Howerver, there are 2 parts (harmonic drive transmissions and the FPGA board) that can have multi-month lead times. Currently we have enough harmonic transmissions to build approximately 100 Dexters, which is why we are limiting the July rewards to 90 units. We have several options for the FPGA board. We can continue to purchase the prototype boards in limited quantities (less than 200 per quarter) and manually modify them with the Dexter specific functionality. This will satisfy the early rewards recipients. We have our own FPGA board design that is completed but has not been built and tested. And finally we have a third option, the snickerdoodle black board from krtkl. This is Kent's favorite option but it requires modifying our motor board to accept the connectors of the snickerdoodle board.
The most disruptive risk we can identify is the unlikely event of a Kickstarter avalanche. We are scaled to build 25 robots and supply 100 kits a month. If demand exceeds this capacity we will accelerate our efforts to train and qualify "Dexter micro-factory" partners to help fulfill this demand.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    Thank You!

    You go down in history as a one of the first backers of Dexter! You receive:
    • 3-D printable Dexter figurine STL
    • Dexter phone and PC wallpaper
    • Shout out on our website

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    Pledge $17 or more About $17

    Dexter T-shirt

    This memorabilia T-shirt let's you show off your support for Dexter. (Size options available)

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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,995 or more About $1,995

    Early Bird Dexter Kit

    Dexter 5-axis Robot Arm kit. The kit includes the following:
    • Mechanical Parts: 3D Printed joints, Carbon fiber tubing, base
    • Gearboxes, belts, shafts, and couplings
    • Electrical components and sensors
    • HiQ Supercomputer Controller
    • Power Supply

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    Pledge $2,300 or more About $2,300

    2nd Early Bird Kit

    Dexter 5-axis Robot Arm kit. The kit includes the following:
    • Mechanical Parts: 3D Printed joints, Carbon fiber tubing, base
    • Gearboxes, belts, shafts, and couplings
    • Electrical components and sensors
    • HiQ Supercomputer Controller
    • Power Supply

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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $2,995 or more About $2,995

    Makecation: Assembly Education Package

    Includes a Dexter Kit. The assembly package includes 2 days with the Haddington Team. We provide the tools and the expertise to make sure you get a working Dexter. Travel, lodging and meals not included.

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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $2,999 or more About $2,999

    Standard Kit

    Dexter 5-axis Robot Arm kit. The kit includes the following:
    • Mechanical Parts: 3D Printed joints, Carbon fiber tubing, base
    • Gearboxes, belts, shafts, and couplings
    • Electrical components and sensors
    • HiQ Supercomputer Controller
    • Power Supply

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  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $4,200 or more About $4,200

    Early Bird Fully Assembled DexterArm

    Fully Assembled DexterArm. First 10 backers will receive their Dexter in June.

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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $4,999 or more About $4,999

    Fully Assembled DexterArm

    Fully Assembled DexterArm. First 10 backers will receive their Dexter in June.

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  9. Select this reward

    Pledge $10,000 About $10,000

    Dexter micro factory Maker business

    Includes a Dexter Kit. 5 days with the Haddington Team to learn the assembly process, robot programming and supply chain navigation. Get educated to build Dexter and develop a Maker Business. Travel, lodging and meals not included.

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Funding period

- (30 days)