An interview with UFactory’s Tony Le, who's working to bring adaptive robots into daily life.
Founded in 2013, UFACTORY
is a Shenzhen-based tech start-up working at the vanguard of robotics and artificial intelligence, and the creator of the uArm
, the world’s first desktop robotic arm. UFACTORY’s technology is currently in use in over 60 countries with a mission to bring adaptive robots into daily life, transforming previously expensive and cumbersome technology into user-friendly tech assistance.
The brand’s newest innovation, the Lite 6
, was funded on Kickstarter and is now available
for pre-order. Created for assistance with simple, repetitive tasks, the Lite 6 is built with a harmonic drive that enables it to seamlessly reproduce repetitive tasks. Its hybrid actuator is designed to balance cost with performance, and the software to be so accessible that almost any user can learn to program and activate the arm within hours.
UFactory’s creator, Tony Le, tells us about the journey of building his user-friendly robot arm.
UFACTORY’s Robot Arm Journey
“In 2014, we created the world's first desktop robot arm, the uArm, and successfully funded it on Kickstarter. Last year, we launched the uArm Swift campaign, and it became the most funded robot campaign in history.
Finally, in 2018, we launched a product that we call the xArm
with a foldable six-axis, with superior mobility functions, but it was too expensive and large for everyday use. Our newest robot arm, however, has a much more affordable price point. In addition, it's based on open source play platforms, somewhat like Raspberry Pi, that make it easier to access.
Robots are mainly used in industrial factories and big companies, but I created UFACTORY because I think that robot arms can do so more. For example, automating coffee machines has become one popular commercial application as both become much lower. But users are also interested in integrating their robot-arm into a range of automation systems, assembly lines, and laboratory testing. We released Lite 6 because we wanted to make this robot-arm technology available to everyone, especially those passionate about trying this technology in their fields.”
Robots For All
“Robots like these are ideal for small businesses. Even if they have several workers, they may want to automate the processes in place. Already, we have some users integrating the robo-arm with AGV mobile platforms and transforming the uArm into a sort of “robo-waiter” to be used in the restaurant or for house chores.
I think we are just at the beginning stage of trying to integrate this technology into different fields, especially with commercial applications. Ultimately, the goal of this robot is to replace what human beings are required to do, especially repetitive tasks like housekeeping. A robot-arm is an ideal tool for automation: we just train the arm once and it will keep working and working and working without stopping."
A Robot Arm For The Everyday
“To create Lite 6, we had to make something smaller, or even similar to a human's arm in terms of size and weight. To do this, we created a built-in pump design that makes the internal wiring possible, while a pneumatic gripper is able to function without external air tubes. With a linear bearing, the arm provides a stable and natural grasp all the time and a brushless pump motor enables longevity. Moreover, the air pressure sensor gives real-time feedback, which makes drop-off detection possible. All this essentially replicates the feeling of using a “real” arm.”
The Lite 6, as mentioned, is good for making coffee, which has been a popular application all over the world, especially in China and India. But we’ve also seen it used for testing iPad and iPhones screens, especially among YouTubers who make videos comparing mobile phones of different brands. Normally, YouTubers would test the speed of this phone manually, but they are now using the robot arm to show the real-time actions of each mobile phone and demonstrate a comparison performance. So, we foresee a lot of different applications with the robot arm, even outside manufacturing, customer service, and household tasks. But first, of course, we had to cut down the cost and make it affordable for creators all over the world.”
“Kickstarter is an ideal platform for projects like these because it attracts creators, makers, and DIYers with their own creative ideas who need affordable help to make their projects come to life. For those who use Raspberry Pi, the projects launched on Kickstarter often offer many kinds of resources for libraries developers, allowing access and ability to program in different ways. For us, we consider the robot-arm "the Raspberry Pi of the robot-arm industry," providing users open access and several functions to set the robot arm in different positions and set the speed, acceleration, and actions to fit their needs. What's more, we also developed the arm's libraries for Raspberry Pi, which will enable makers to make this robot-arm work based on the systems. We provide the libraries and software, users just program the robot based on this platform.
For this project, we prepared for years. Although we cut down the cost of the robot arm and made it a smaller size, it was still hard to make it come true. We put a lot of effort into the design and algorithm to make it real. And finally, we got a finished product and wanted to launch it on Kickstarter. I want to say it's hard, but now that we have made it, we can't wait to show this amazing product. Our mission is to boost the digital fabrication industry and help human labor to be released from repetitive tasks. But most importantly, to focus on creativity and the more important work of creating a better world to live in.”