OhmniLabs Tells Us About the Development of the 3D Printed Ohmni Robot

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Will robots replace human interaction? That’s a big, scary question that has been the subject of much science fiction and speculation about the future. Robot development company OhmniLabs isn’t interested in replacing human interaction, however – they want to use robotics to better facilitate it. The Ohmni, now raising money on Indiegogo, takes Skype or FaceTime a step further by allowing you to not only speak to your family while you’re out of town, but to share a meal or otherwise interact with them as though you were right there at home.

Imagine you’re away on business and missing your family. Place a call to the Ohmni robot stationed at your house, and you can now see through and control that robot. You can send the robot into the kitchen where your family is having dinner, and chat with them via the Ohmni’s screen without them having to answer a call or position a camera. Or if you’re concerned about an aging family member living alone, you can easily check in on them via the robot.

The wifi-connected robot can be easily activated from wherever you are, using a web browser, and people have responded enthusiastically to the idea. With more than two weeks left in the Indiegogo campaign, the Ohmni has surpassed its fundraising goal of $100,000. We had the opportunity to chat with Jared Go, Co-founder and CTO of OhmniLabs, about the Ohmni’s development and the role 3D printing played in it.

How is Autodesk’s software making this project possible?

“Autodesk’s Fusion 360 is really the cornerstone of our hardware development process. The price is unbeatable (free for early stage pre-revenue companies) and it covers all of our design and mechanical engineering needs. We make full use all of the integrated tools – high quality rendering for design reviews, stress simulations for structural analysis, and thermal simulations for enclosure/part design. It’s amazing to have all these capabilities seamlessly integrated into a single, cloud-based product that you can install in just a few minutes on any Mac or PC. Makes onboarding new engineers incredibly streamlined!

On top of that, we love Fusion 360’s extensibility. As there aren’t official places to add BOM information yet, we’ve built our own system on top by having JSON encoded parameter strings on each of our parts. We wrote our own scripts that can give us an instant BOM breakdown of any subassembly and can also be used for inventory tracking.

Also, Fusion 360 has the right semantic structure for versioning and sharing. Startups (hardware ones especially!) don’t usually have the time to go and set up their own systems for versioning from scratch. Fusion’s system works right out of the box and fits naturally into our development flow.”

What does the scalable additive manufacturing system in the works over the last two years involve?

“Our initial print farm was a single cell of 15 printers that collectively produces all the plastic parts for about 40 bots a month.  We used highly modified Printrbot Metal Plus printers where we replaced all the wiring, beds, etc. to get the level of reliability we needed. Over the last two years, our goal was to nail our process, yields, tolerances, surface finish, and part strength we needed to use this process for production. We’ve now got everything in place and we’ve developed our own control software to manage the entire farm, complete with QA and quality scores for each printer, regular maintenance tracking and scheduling, and the ability to centrally start and monitor prints from our private cloud.

We’ve now designed and are printing on our own printers that are optimized for minimal maintenance, minimal cost, maximum density, and cycle time. There’s a lot that printer farms have in common with server racks and squeezing the maximum number of nozzles into the minimum volume has been a key goal. Our goal is to ramp up to 250 of these printers which will give us a complete and continuous production ramp all the way to volumes where injection molding (and the associated overheads) makes sense.”

Why is this process the best for Ohmni’s production in general, and more specifically for keeping that production local?

“Our goal from the beginning was to build a robotics company that was as lean as possible. This is key for us because we’re tackling consumer robotics and affordability is paramount.

Additive manufacturing is a game changer in terms of the speed that we can iterate and get real product into users’ hands. We’ve already built 9 generations of Ohmni in the last two years and doing this with 3D printing has probably saved us about a million dollars. People also underestimate the amazing design flexibility that comes with 3D printing. Not only do mechanical engineers find it a lot more fun and fast, but we’re finding we can build complex, unibody parts that require less assembly.

Being able to produce the parts in-house is also a natural fit with local manufacturing. The supply chain is super short – parts are printed on our farm and travel maybe 20 or 30 feet to where they are assembled. There’s no need to hold a large inventory of injection molded parts. This means we don’t need to rent a huge space, which would be super expensive in the SF Bay Area.

One of the biggest things that local production with additive manufacturing brings is derisking. With traditional development, there are a lot of step functions that need to be taken that have a high cost in terms of both money and time. If you mess up a mold, boom – you are set back weeks and many thousands of dollars, especially for the large molds needed for robots. On the other hand, additive manufacturing allows you to move more like a software company.  If we find an error in a part or get feedback from a customer, often times we’ll make the changes and be testing and building improved units within hours, with zero additional fixed costs. The mentality that comes with this way of doing development is tremendously freeing and the benefits shouldn’t be underestimated.”

If you’re interested in the Ohmni, you can still take advantage of early bird rewards on Indiegogo for $1,399, or any of the several other rewards up for offer. Check out the campaign here, or take a look at the video below:

Would you use something like the Ohmni in your own daily life? Discuss in the OhmniLabs forum at 3DPB.com.

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