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Democratising robotics for mass adoption

Traditionally, robotic arms have been seen by manufacturers as a significant investment but the space is now being disrupted thanks to start-up Automata and its launch of a lightweight, affordable, easy-to-use robotic arm named Eva.

Meet Eva

Automata was launched by Mostafa Elsayed and Suryansh Chandra in 2015 with the aim of making robotics more accessible to a wider pool of companies, while also changing perceptions that the technology is expensive and complex.

The company’s first robot is a small robotic arm named Eva weighing under 5kg and costing under £4000. The hardware can operate on multiple axes to undertake precise tasks and has integrated software that remembers and repeats motion. Users can choreograph the arm for specific tasks just by moving it, meaning that companies don’t have to write a program to operate it.

Initially the company thought it would cater for makers and small-scale manufacturers but has since found a wider market expressing interest, including large manufacturers in the plastic, consumer electronic and food and beverage sectors. However, the co-founders don’t believe their customer base should be restricted to traditional manufacturing companies.

“While we understand the starting base will be in manufacturing, we want robotics to bleed into other markets too, being used to undertake everyday tasks. There is a massive perception hurdle when it comes to robotics and we’re working to change this by introducing even more affordable options,” says Elsayed.

Addressing this issue head on, the company recently introduced a service model for Eva. Each robotic arm has an on-board computer that connects to the internet so that Automata can charge its customers on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis.

Elsayed continues, “The manufacturing industry is changing rapidly, with companies opting for on-demand services over large-scale, heavy investment. Our service model enables customers to only pay for the hours they’re using Eva – a bit like an hourly wage. We believe that the future of manufacturing will be based on these kind of flexible, affordable subscription-based services.”

Prototyping in-house to speed up product development

Automata continuously looks to enhance its designs and uses the CAM capabilities of Autodesk Fusion 360 to sync up with in-house 3D printers and CNC machines to test new designs before they’re sent to the factory floor. It also uses Autodesk Inventor® to help design aspects of the hardware.

Elsayed comments, “As a start-up, agility is key for us to turn around new products. Having both CAD and CAM in our office gives us total control of the design and allows us to move much faster. Through Fusion 360 we’re able to quickly turn our designs around; pushing out a new robot prototype every few weeks.”

Due to the structure of the team, it’s not just machine operators that are responsible for manufacturing prototypes and so the usability of Fusion 360 was also a real selling point for Automata. If something goes wrong in the manufacturing process and no machinists are in the office, other employees can jump in. “Fusion 360 is so easy to use that even our software developers who aren’t trained in using the software can pick it up straight away”, adds Elsayed.

A future where robotics is used everyday

Automata is currently trialling and taking orders for a new product that it hopes to launch imminently. To support further product development, as well as continued improvement to its core robot, Eva, the company plans to hire new employees and scale up the number of Autodesk licenses it has; something that is quick and easy to do, given the fact that Fusion 360 is cloud-based and paid on a monthly basis.

In the future, the company also wants to use the IoT connectivity to enhance the performance of the robot by enabling customers to download new software updates at no additional cost, eventually aiming to launch new features such as vision and decision making.

“Our ultimate aim at Automata is to get more people to understand how easy robots are to use and to see them as an essential everyday tool. We’re already working on new prototypes and software to make our robots even more intuitive and grow our business. The great thing about cloud-based software such as Fusion 360 is that we know we can quickly and easily scale up our product development to support this,” comments Elsayed.

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