It isn’t even remotely a hyperbolic statement to suggest that our future will be entirely defined by robotics. Science fiction may have filled an entire generation’s heads with visions of stark futures where our robotic servants (inexplicably using bodies like ours) do everything for us while we quickly become irrelevant. But the reality is that robots have already become virtually irreplaceable to modern society. Our robots don’t have shiny white, human-shaped heads, but the cars that drive or park themselves are robots, most manufacturing is done by robotics, and depending on how loosely we stretch the definition several of our home appliances would qualify as robots. And of course 3D printers are most certainly robots, albeit simple ones.
The big thing that most of our literary dystopian futures get wrong is the idea that robots will eventually replace the need for people. But the reality is that once robotics simplify or eliminate a human job, it just requires a different type of job to be filled somewhere else. We will always, at least for the far foreseeable future, require a human workforce of some kind. Not only are there some jobs that robots simply cannot do, but someone is going to have to design and repair the robots that we build. Thankfully, and thanks in part to an enthusiastic maker movement, schools and educators are finally starting to understand the important role STEAM and robotics education have in our coming generations’ lives.
The growing movement to bring technical education to students at younger ages has opened the door for a wide variety of new businesses that create high-tech learning projects designed to appeal to a wide range of students. Naturally, 3D printers and simple robot projects tend to be a recurring theme in many of these projects for obvious reasons. As an intern at EZ-Robot, University of Waterloo Mechatronics Engineering student James Graham-Hu had a wide range of robotic components and materials available to him when a coworker suggested building a walking robot with a rubber band gun. You know, just because.
“I mounted the gun on our Revolution:JD robot, but it wasn’t what we’d envisioned. I completely redesigned the body and legs to create EDI Mech Warrior– a completely custom EZ-Robot build. The unique backward leg design is something that we’d seen on other mech designs. For example, the Clone Scout Walker from Star Wars. I designed the EDI Mech Warrior to have this style of leg because the regular humanoid straight-style legs wouldn’t have given the mech feel that I was going for,” Graham-Hu told us via email.
Graham-Hu wanted EDI to be able to move very quickly, but also have a lot of flexibility to its movements and maneuverability. Bipedal robots tend to be rather slow and herky jerky, while wheeled robots are limited to specific types of surfaces and prone to being flipped over. So rather than using an existing leg design, Graham-Hu’s new leg design includes 5 servos in each leg as well as wheels. The robot’s movements and behavior was programmed using EZ-Robot’s software programming system EZ-Builder.
You can see EDI’s wide range of movements in this video here:
“[EZ-Builder] allowed me to easily create functions such as walking, driving, sitting, getting up from sitting, elastic band gun control, and even a custom mobile app. EDI is controlled by EZ-Builder either through a computer or a mobile device. To move, EDI lowers its wheels to the ground. When the wheels make contact EDI begins to move. To stop, the wheels are lifted off the ground and bring EDI to a quick halt. The gun is aimed horizontally using a servo that is attached to the main body, and can be aimed vertically by bending the knee joints,” Graham-Hu explained.
While the plastic parts that the original EDI used are injection molded parts, EZ-Robot has uploaded 3D printable STL files of all of their robotic components to Thingiverse. So provided they have a 3D printer and can source the mechanics and electronics, anyone can build their own EDI or even develop their own robotic creation. EZ-Robot has created their educational program to scale from beginners all the way up to advanced users, including lessons in soldering, electronics, and design. As for EDI, the rubber band-flinging robot is made up of 60 individual 3D printable parts and shouldn’t take much longer than 10 hours to print.
While EDI and the various robotic projects that EZ-Robot sells may just look like toys, the reality is that they actually require a lot of design and technical know-how with real world applications to complete. Just because the end result is an awesome robot that can fling rubber bands and people doesn’t mean Graham-Hu didn’t learn a lot while building it.
What do you think of this cool little robot? Discuss in the EZ-Robot forum thread on 3DPB.com.