Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Meet MobBob – The 3D Printed Robot, Controlled with an Intuitive Smartphone Body

ST Medical Devices

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mobbobaniWe’ve said it once and we will say it again and again: “3D printing and robotics are meant for each other.” The two technologies go hand in hand, with 3D printers actually being a type of robot themselves. We have reached a point in time where robots are actually creating other robots. The open source movement has played a huge role in allowing this to happen, with designers and engineers creating robotic devices which feature many 3D printable components and parts. With the introduction of 3D printers that are able to print actual electrical components, the future will only see this convergence continue.

You don’t need to explain this to one video game developer from Australia, named Kevin Chan. He has spent a lifetime developing robots, and has also been involved in the 3D printing scene for several years now. Recently, however, he came up with his own very unique 3D printable robot, that skips out on many of the expensive electronics, instead using a smartphone that doubles as both the robot’s body, and its computer system. He calls his creation the ‘MobBob.’

“Making robots is one of the main reasons I got into 3D printing,” Chan tells 3DPrint.com. “After making my own BoB clone, I tried to design some new walking designs. I also work as a game developer and I write apps, so I wanted to try combining my experience with writing apps with my love for little bipeds (a type of robots). The result is MobBob!”

mobbob2As you can see, MobBob is quite the unique little robot, using an on board smartphone to control its movements. Not only does this save on the need to purchase and use many pricey electronics, but it also allows the robot to take on many functions that would typically cost a fortune to develop by one’s self. Think about it. A smartphone already has an onboard camera, microphone, compass, touch screen, gyroscope, GPS, speaker, and network connectivity, as well as a ton of processing power.

“I think using a phone can lead to some really fun robots,” Chan tells us. “MobBob is a robot that anyone can build, doesn’t cost a lot, and has the potential to do lots of interesting things! Also, with the phone as the controller, it should make it easy for apps to be shared between users, via the iTunes or GooglePlay stores.”

To design MobBob’s 3D printed parts, Chan used Blender. He started out by designing the robot’s “LegPart” since it needed to fit the servos, and then he proceeded to build the rest of the parts around that. Chan tells us that he is always thinking about “printability” when designing his parts, as he knows that certain angles won’t turn out the best on a typical 3D printer. He tries to minimize overhangs and keep his parts as simple and clean as possible. When printing his parts, he uses his UP! Plus 2 3D printer, which he says provides him with very good print quality.

mobbobfeatured

As for MobBob and how it works, the 4 servos are controlled by an Arduino-compatible microcontroller which has Bluetooth LE built into it. This Bluetooth allows for the smartphone to communicate directly with the microcontroller. The wireless communication means that the robot can work with either Android or iOS devices. The smartphone can also be removed from the robot and used as a remote control to move the MobBob around.

“I spent a lot time writing servo controller code that could animate the movements smoothly,” Chan says. “I also tried to keep the serial command interface as straight forward as possible so that it would be easy for people to develop apps for the robot.”

mobbob3MobBob consists of several components which are not 3D printed, including:

  • 4 metal gear micro servos from Arcbotics
  • A Bluno Nano microcontroller
  • An Eneloop Battery Booster
  • Wires and the tiny breadboard
  • A Nexus 5 smartphone

All in all, this is a tremendous development for the robotics and 3D printing communities. Chan has left his design open source, and has made the files available to download for free on Thingiverse. What do you think of Chan’s design? Will you be attempting to 3D print this little robot yourself? Discuss in the MobBob forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out some of the videos of MobBob in action below.

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