Modbot Wants To Make Robotics Easier, More Modular And More Democratic

The DIY revolution means that people can now print their own 3D models, build their own websites and apps, and even build their own mobile devices and custom computers using things like Raspberry Pi. The Modbot team taking part in this year’s TechCrunch Battlefield at CES 2014 wants to do the same for robotics – not hobby robotics, but serious, full-fledged industrial and commercial robot building.

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Modbot founders Adam Ellison and Daniel Pizzata identified a problem in prototyping and building robots for use in manufacturing, research and basically any other application: parts were unnecessarily complicated and expensive, when in reality they could be much more affordable and much simpler, too.

Ellison and Pizzata have created a simple system consisting of a servo, a link and a joint component, along with a base upon which to build your projects. The Modbot vision is one where people can combine pre-assembled parts that cost significantly less than their professional industrial counterparts in order to build a wide range of robots for any number of purposes, including small scale production. Imagine, then a future where entrepreneurs could not only create a concept for a hardware device and send that away to a production partner, but also build the thing themselves in-house.

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Honda’s Asimo costs roughly $1 million just to make, according to Modbot’s founders, and most of that cost comes from actuators and hardware. By dramatically decreasing the price of this part of the process, Modbot is hoping to encourage innovation and make it possible for even the smallest companies to build anything from a giant robot death spider to a fully functional prosthetic arm.

Modbot is asking people to get involved by signing up on their website today, and plans to launch a campaign soon to produce its hardware and to develop its app, which is a rapid prototyping campaign that lets you design your robot in virtual space with just a few clicks, and then instantly click a button and order everything you need to build that design right from the prototyper and have it shipped to you directly.

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Raspberry Pi has helped pave the way for a future where you could easily see kids coming to school with coding and electronics experience in hand. Modbot could offer the same sort of thing for robotics, albeit with pricing that while affordable, still reflects a target market of small business users and entrepreneurs rather than kids and hobbyists. But it could still be sort of equivalent to the 3D printing revolution, putting manufacturing capabilities once relegated to multi-billion dollar companies in the hands of five-person shops and startups.