You want to build robots, but you wonder how on earth could you create one by yourself ? You think creating robots is only possible for big industrial companies, with thousands of people and machines ?
Well, this could've been the case 30 years ago, but not anymore.
Nowadays, all you need is a home 3D printer. Those machines have really become accessible over the past few years, and you can get one for less than 300$.
Create complex forms with 3D printing
When people say : "with 3D printing, the only limit is your imagination", they're right ! Everything you can imagine, you can build it. The only constraint is your 3D printer dimensions.
You can build some complex mechanisms, inside another part of the piece. This would be impossible with some traditional cutting machines. Here, you have almost no limit. A very expensive process is now available to anyone !
Plus, if you use a good software to slice and prepare your model for your 3D printer, it will add some 3D printed supports to hold concave shapes (which otherwise are supported by nothing but air, and will then fall).
Oh, and you can also use any color you want : no need to paint the parts.
3D printing allows you to go fast
A strong advantage – one of the best – of 3D printing, is that you can build prototypes very quickly.
You're not stuck with a fixed industrial mould, or a very expensive manufactured piece of metal. You're also not stuck with any manufacturer or supplier delay. You can change everything you want, anytime you want, just from your home.
If you realize that the part you just 3D printed is not really what you expected, and you find some quick improvements to do, then you just need to update the 3D model and launch another print ! This will only cost you the material for printing, which is not really expensive.
Thus, you can go really fast when building a robot. No need to fear for extra costs and delays, or to validate a part for 3 days before producing it. Just print it. If it doesn't meet your needs, modify it and print it again. And so on. This way, you'll be able to build a nice and functional robot in no time.
3D printing alternatives
3D printing is great, but there are also some nice alternatives.
A basic 3D printer for home will usually have a 0.2mm precision. Sometimes this is not enough.
If the piece you want to build is flat, you can use a laser-cutting machine and make it from wood. (the visual from wood part is also really nice). You can also use extrusion machines for metal parts.
You might think, those machines are expensive and not so common in everybody's home. And that's precisely one of the reason why we advised to you use a 3D printer.
But there is a new trend coming which is solving some of those problems. Maybe you've heard of the word "fablab". A fablab is a small-scale workshop where you can use some industrial machines, and get help from professional, to build your Do-It-Yourself project. A fablab is often open to everyone. Check if there is one around your home, and go say hello !
Although don't worry too much, for most of the cases, a standard 3D printer is just fine.
Now let's start building robots !
3D printing has now become accessible enough for you to use it. You can buy a low-cost 3D printer at home, and start printing your robot. If this is not enough, many fablabs will be available for you to do more complex tasks.
You can find a huge open source community around 3D printing. That's another great point. If you have a problem, you'll easily find a lot of help on the Internet. Free models are available on Thingiverse. And if you feel like you want to build your own 3D printer (who knows ?), you can get a look at RepRap 3D printers, an open source project.
If you are searching for a nice open source robot to build at home or at school, go check the STL files of Niryo One on github. About 60 hours of printing and you get a 6 axis robotic arm, just for you.
So… what are you waiting for ? Let's build robots !