Top 10: Best Robotic Arms for 2012

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Behold the human arm. Magnificent. Hold it up and take a good long look at it. What a thing of beauty, power, dexterity and precision. Five-million years in the making.

Can any rational roboticist actually think that he or she can fashion an arm of metal and plastic, wires, gears, end effectors, and electronic nerves that could possibly vie with Mother Nature’s handiwork?

Of course, none do yet. The arm that builds and fells empires, penned the Bible, painted the Sistine Chapel, plus does its level best to get its host through the mundane chores of the day, will not suffer duplication easily.

The challenge, however, has been taken up by humans, who, with the introduction of the co-worker robot this year, have, like it or not, been thrown into the fray of continually upgrading and improving upon the robotic arms already at work and those quickly entering into the marketplace. In short, the handier a robot is, the more attention its future development will get.

If robots are to be the side-by-side work mates of their creators, then they better have arms, good ones. Robotic arms may not be called upon to paint the Sistine Chapel, but they are sure as hell going to called upon to do a lot more than weld cars together.

A robot’s central defining characteristic

It may well be that a robot’s arm or arms will be a robot’s defining characteristic for a very long while. A robot without arms will therefore not be a robot; rather, armlessness will be an evolutionary dead-end, much like Homo robustus: a hominid, yes, but not much of one.

To the victor who conquers the robotic arm and hand conundrum will go spoils equal to or maybe greater than those for the house that Jobs and Woz built. There has been lots of stellar development work done on robotic arms. Let’s take a look:

Arms are pretty good, but need to get better

Bin picker:
Random items picked out of a jumble in a picking bin

Danish delight
Incredibly light weight but highly mobile and fast.

Dressing with WAM:
WAM arms: the worlds first robot system that learns to clothe people.

Faux human muscle:
Awesome actuators that mimic human arm muscle

Got arm, need a hand and fingers:
Advanced fingertips with remarkable sensory technology

Japan’s secret co-worker:
Hiro’s arms are people-ready, dexterous, slim, fast and accurate.

Robai Cyton Gamma:
Muscular looking but lots of movement and mobility

The Meka arm:
Wonderful technology getting a price-conscious makeover by Redwood Robotics

The R12-six:
Quite possibly the most cost-effective, 6-axis robot on the market today

By Tom Green

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