In the summer of 2016 Gabe Bentz was shopping for an affordable robot arm to use to experiment with the Arduino. While there were a few arms out there. They were complicated mechanically and had very little functionality (most did not even have a gripper). So Gabe decided to build his own. With a couple of hours in Autodesk Inventor and a few servos Gabe soon created the prototype for the LittleArm, which his 3D printer spit out overnight.
Also in that weekend, Gabe created a small python application for the arm, which allowed him to control it from a computer. He now had a miniature equivalent of most modern industrial robot arms.
Gabe took the arm to several meet-ups and STEM classes that he presented at. The response was overwhelming. Teachers wanted kits for classes and makers wanted kits for the garage.
Fortunately, the resources were available to meet the requests. Gabe ran a small product design company, Slant Concepts, that had the capabilities to produce the arms in low quantities. But the demand continued to grow.
Finally it was decided to completely formalize the LittleArm. So Gabe and the team at Slant put the LittleArm on Kickstarter. The arm was fully funded within a week and after month the project had hit 250% of it goal.
Today the LittleArm project has a dedicated farm of the 3D printers cranking out parts and a growing ecosystem of code and tutorials for teachers. The LittleArm itself is fully trainable. Much like industrial arms all the user has to do is move the arm to a few waypoints, record them, and then play them. The Arduino that controls the arm may also be reprogrammed from scratch. The overall architecture of the arm makes it ideal for a wide range of age and skill levels.
Gabe is excited the business has done so well. But he loves the ramifications of the design much more. “3D printing is highly underutilized as a process. It can create macroscopic structures that are superior to other materials or manufacturing techniques. The LittleArm is really special technologically because we have utilized the capabilities of 3D printing as no other product has. We don’t create molds because they simply would not work for the product.”
Gabe sees the use of 3D printing as a process growing in the future due to its special capabilities and he hopes to lead that development with other products such as the LittleArm. Slant Concepts is also developing better 3D printers specifically for the manufacturing of 3D printed products.
This is a great example of how a garage maker project has grown into a real technology product and company.