Mankind has always put great value in the development of technology and how it can improve our lives. It has also lived in great fear of a technological singularity, an event so groundbreaking that it would revolutionize the way we live or our existence altogether. It’s been the topic of many a post-apocalyptic story of doom and gloom. However, there are others who are hopeful for a better tomorrow and are working tirelessly to use robots to our advantage.
Formation of the Team
The members of the French RedOhm team are doing just that and they share one thing in common: the passion for robotics. A passion that has taken this group far beyond what was initially imagined. While this community is growing and becoming international, it all started with one man’s childhood dream – building a robot. Hervé Mazelin, the founder of RedOhm, has been fascinated by the possibility of such a venture for as far back as he can remember. With his extensive experience in the field of electrical engineering and automation that he amassed throughout the years, he acquired necessary technical skills useful in creating robots. And so, he decided to finally embark on this journey in 2010.
What is RedOhm, though? According to its founder, it’s neither a company nor an association. It is a structure that allows enthusiasts to contact and discuss robotics projects. There is a working space with equipment where some of the members meet regularly but most of the exchanges are via the Internet or the telephone. Sometimes the people communicate with each other without ever even seeing each other.. Those who are part of the team can access a server where all the plans and models are stored. “We strive to develop different projects that can bring together a large community around us and that follows us because exchanges enrich us. We take advantage of everyone’s know-how. This is how we have made great advances in 3D printing, mechanical design and material selection” says Hervé.
The name itself is an acronym. It combines the letters “R” for robotics, “e” for electronics, “d” for home automation (‘domotique’ in French) and “Ohm”, the electrical resistance unit. It was in 2010 that the name first made waves online. This was when they first built their own robot, which was dubbed Sentinel. They worked on this aluminium-structured project for 18 months. To produce the different parts of the robot they used a lathe and a milling machine and as they recount, it was a “tedious job”. The first 3D printer that they acquired was used only for Sentinel’s bodywork. They didn’t have the right tools and they haven’t mastered modeling enough to print functional parts.
The Grand Design
With time they actually gained a better control of CAD modeling and bought two new printers – Zortrax M200 and Zortrax M300. They were instrumental in the creation of their next life-sized robot printed in 3D – Maya. It is a semi-humanoid robot of 1.65m height. It is made able to move thanks to a wheeled platform that can carry two different versions of transportation: one for indoor movement, the other for outside with larger wheels and a larger engine. Its speed ranges between 5 and 6 kph. That is why, for safety reasons, they also needed to work on the braking mechanism and they immediately understood that they needed to make the engine independent of the main processor. Motion control is handled by a specific processor that takes precedence over everything else along with two integrated emergency shutdowns.
In terms of manufacturing, there’s really no way you could even imagine the creation of the Maya robot without 3D printing. It would have been necessary to create injection molds to be able to form parts for a structure of this magnitude. Hervé maintains that without the technology at their disposal, the project would have been unthinkable. “With this process, we reduce the traditional costs of prototyping and above all it allows us to identify design errors.”
As of right now, the team has two M200 printers with 3750 hours (or 156 days) of printing and counting, as well as its big sister, the M300 with 4950 hours of printing, which correlates to roughly 206 days of non stop printing. The greatest advantage of having Zortrax printers on site is their reliability, especially while their working such long hours. The printers are why the team can shift their focus to electronics because they know they can trust the Zortrax Ecosystem to do its job without a glitch. All they need is to set it up and it’s ready to go. The quality of the prints is of value as well of RedOhm. “We have used other types of printers that did not satisfy us. Neither their apparent reliability nor the printing results.”
To manufacture the robot, the team has used a variety of materials, including Z-HIPS in order to make electronic card support, Z-ULTRAT for mechanical parts like connecting rods, cast or support and Z-GLASS for necessary transparent surfaces. The final product integrates a camera that allows a visual interaction consisting of face and movement recognition. The robot follows the person with whom he communicates and gives the impression of a certain intelligence. It is also capable of speech recognition but so far only of a single speaker at a time. It can, however, communicate with five different people alternately by reacting to trigger words. All in all, it might not be ready to take over the world and become our supreme leader but it is getting close to where Hervé and his team imagined their work to be at their conception.
Where is their imagination taking them next? “We would like the Maya project to make us more prominent and give us some exposure because of the quality of our work. The goal today is to seek sponsors to be able to evolve more quickly. If we find them, we would be able to change the structure of our team into an association or possibly even a company. But in order to continue to progress we will need financial help. However, it’s not the software development or 3D printing that costs us a lot – they make our work much easier and more cost-effective.”
In any case, we’re sure that the RedOhm team will find much success in their future ventures into robotics. The team is nothing but persistent, passionate and dedicated and these are the three qualities that characterize great organizations and inspire great hope in their members.