This one may well be a game-changer in the Maker community and while it's not an additive manufacturing device, it is mighty slick.
The Handibot – what the company responsible for its design is calling a "smart power tool" – is a portable, hand-held robotic device which can seemingly work miracles on a job site.
According to David Bryan, one of the designers of the Handibot, the tool is capable of creating some surprising results.
"If I had to pick one thing, I was particularly impressed seeing Handibot cut its own aluminum carriage components," Bryan said. "These start as 3/8" thick 6061 Aluminum sheet, and it was fun to see such robust components made so quickly and easily."
Aimed at the construction trades, DIY-types, the prototyping community and the classroom markets, the Handibot tool features app-driven, one-button ease of use. Essentially a hand-held CNC machine, it includes features like 6-axis control and the ability to run via smartphones, tablets or PCs, the Handibot is what the designers of the device call a "U-Deep," or Universal Digital Power Tool.
Bryan said developing a precision tool like the Handibot required a hard look outside the lab and into the field.
"I'd say the most challenging aspect was anticipating what jobs people would want to do with Handibot and finding ways for Handibot to make those jobs easier," Bryan said. "Early on, we knew that Handibot would be the first in a new category of tools. We spent quite a lot of time ensuring that we weren't leaving anyone out with our design decisions. We realize that our work isn't done on this front and we think that's where the community we're building around the tool will step in and contribute ideas for how to make even more tasks easier with Handibot."
And if you're not into accepting corporate hype at face value, there is this: the project's Kickstarter campaign is blowing up like it's on steroids. With more than 250 investors and double the original goal of $125,000 already on the books, the Handibot has clearly captured the imagination of the startup set. The campaign still has a week to run, so it's safe to say those numbers will continue to climb.
The software which drives the machine, V-CarvePro, a CAD/CAM design program that comes with the whole line of ShopBot offerings, provides Handibots with cutting instructions to take care of this digital fabrication. The company says CNC tool-paths can be automatically "tiled" across a large area for "simple but accurate" registration.
Bryan, one of the designers of the Handibot, says another of the strengths of this new platform is the fact that it's being developed in an open source software and hardware environment.
Bryan says much of the inspiration for the Handibot tool came from the students in Neil Gershenfeld's "Machines That Make" course at MIT. The class emphasizes bootstrapping the next generation of digital fabrication tools.
"Some really creative and inspiring small digital tools have been designed by the group in Neil's lab and Neil's classes," Bryan said. "In particular, Jonathan Ward's MTM Snap which, in collaboration with Saul Griffith and Mike Estee at OtherLab, developed into the OtherMill mini mill and the OtherCutter Cardboard cutter. Nadya Peek and Ilan Moyer's Pop Fab portable-cnc-machine-in-a-suitcase; and Ilan Moyer's, Alec Rivers' and Fredo Durandof's position-correcting router are also amazing."
But tools are of little use in the field if their complexity and lack of durability make them impractical for day to day work.
"One of our most important goals with Handibot was for it to be easy to use," Bryan said. "By no means do you need to be an expert or have extensive carpentry knowledge. The addition of job-specific, task-specific applications, we think, will take this ease-of-use to the next level. These intuitive applications provide users with the information needed to complete their task. The challenges faced in traditional CNC, such as determining feed and speed, are largely pushed to the background making this tool easier to use."
Founded in 1996 in Durham, NC, ShopBotTools also offers a line of other CNC devices.