A class, research group or individual, starting with a 3D printer and a stock of the standard compatible electronic and basic mechanical components can recreate any of the designs in the library, adapt them for their own purposes and then contribute the design back to the community for further re-use. Because the plasticwork for each robot is specifically printed for that particular design, unlike robots built with general purpose kits, parts need not be limited to specific positions, lengths or shapes, yielding a more efficient, stronger, lighter robot. The use of a set of standard compatible components allows institutes to stock parts knowing that they will be useful in many situations and allows for the reuse of parts from old robots. Furthermore, many of the standard compatible components will be accompanied by lists of specific makes and models and the tradeoffs to be expected when choosing between alternate parts, providing flexibility in terms of budget, local availability, performance requirements and changes in vendor. Regardless of their choice, the resulting robot designs can be shared and built on in collaboration with other students who may have chosen different components. The software for the Open Academic Robot Kit will be likewise modular, open and flexible. It will consist of a set of elemental modules for controlling motors, reading sensors and displaying user interfaces, built on top of the Robot Operating System (ROS) framework. The Open Academic Robot Kit library will include tested reference robot designs, complete with basic software, full instructions and performance evaluations within the DHS-NIST-ASTM International Standard Test Methods for Response Robots. These are a straightforward entry point, especially for new students and researchers, providing them with a working solution with known performance and from which they can learn and improve. Improvements can be contributed back to the library of designs. These reference designs will cover the full spectrum of robot types that may be produced with such technology, from basic floor robots to advanced mobility, mapping, manipulation and sensing robots. In the future it is anticipated that the Open Academic Robot Kit will also extend to aerial and aquatic robots.
The use of the Open Academic Robot Kit facilitates a variety of novel classroom and community use cases. Two examples include:
The Open Academic Robot Kit is designed to be extremely low cost, especially compared to other kits of similar capabilities. For example, here are three possible configurations for basic, intermediate and advanced mobile robots. Other designs exist at all price points between these examples.
Many schools already have a suitable 3D printer - a $600AUD to $2,000 AUD filament extrusion printer (eg. Solidoodle, MakerBot, RepRap) will suffice. Alternatively, many “Hackerspaces” will have access to suitable 3D printers and there are also many 3D printing mail order services that may be utilised to produce the requisite printed parts.
Examples of standard compatible electronic components, including suggestions for specific parts, includes:
To make it easier for new institutes to adopt the Open Academic Robot Kit, group purchases of suitable parts may be made from the various vendors. As the kit is open, over time it is anticipated that vendors will sell bundled kits of compatible components, perhaps along with 3D printed parts and pre-programmed computer boards, ready for immediate use.
The Open Academic Robot Kit is closely aligned with the RoboCupRescue Robot League, a community of teams working to advance the state of response robot technologies. This research competition exposes students and researchers to real world challenges by way of the DHS-NIST-ASTM International Standard Test Methods for Response Robots. These test methods are developed in close collaboration with responders and are used to assist government agencies and military organisations in specifying and procuring robots worldwide.
The Open Academic Robot Kit also paves the way for just-in-time, custom purpose, low cost robots for actual deployment. Two major issues with current response robots are that they are necessarily a compromise as they must carry out many different missions and they need extensive, unique spare parts inventories and associated logistics. An Open Response Robot Kit will consist of a logistics unit, such as a shipping container, containing an inventory of standard parts, 3D printers, feedstock and a catalogue of robot designs and software. When disaster strikes, such as an earthquake or industrial accident, the perfect robot can be produced on-the-spot, using performance data gathered within the standard test methods to make their decision. These robots will be inexpensive, easy to repair and similar in their control methodology. It is hoped that the best robots from the Open Academic Robot Kit may become the prototypes that, along with their developers, feed into a future Open Response Robot Kit.