The 3 best Programmable robot arms in 2024

March 5, 2024
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What is a Programmable robot arm? 

A Programmable robot arm is an automated mechanical arm that can be programmed to perform various tasks

They typically have multiple joints that allow a high degree of movement and skill. The arm is controlled by a computer that sends signals to each joint, telling it how to move and rotate.

But aren’t Programmable robot arms extremely hard to set up? 

No! These days, many robot arms come with intuitive software that allows you to program the arm without needing to code. You can simply drag and drop commands to teach the arm a sequence of movements. 

But still, in the case of complex tasks and devices, you may need to use a text-based programming language like Python to write custom code.

Programmable robot arms are now common in factories for assembly line work, in labs for precise experiments, and even by hobbyists for creative projects. 

The arms can grip, lift, rotate, and move objects with extreme precision; some advanced arms have built-in computer vision, allowing them to detect objects, read barcodes, and more.

The top 3 Programmable robot arms in 2024

  • RO1 by Standard Bots: RO1 simplifies automation with intuitive, no-code programming, AI, vision, and advanced features, making it ideal for businesses. 
  • ABB YuMi (IRB 1400): YuMi offers easy programming with visual tools and is more accessible than other ABB models, but still requires some technical know-how.
  • Franka Emika Panda: The Panda combines flexibility in programming with precision and safety, perfect for delicate, low-payload tasks and adaptable to various applications.

How to program a robot arm as a beginner

Programming a robot arm from scratch may seem easy, but you can simplify it by following these tips.

Check them out: 

  • Understand the basics: Begin by learning the fundamental concepts, such as the robot arm's joint movements and their similarities to human arm joints like the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the names and functions of your robot arm's components.
  • Select a programming interface: For beginners, a graphical interface is an accessible starting point, eliminating the need for coding. RO1 by Standard Bots, for example, provides a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface that doesn’t require coding knowledge. 
  • Execute movements: Program the robot arm by specifying joint angles for movements. You can do this through the interface by dragging parts or inputting degree values directly. Start off with simple movements of individual joints and gradually progress to coordinating multiple joints for complex tasks like reaching and grasping.
  • Incorporate sensors and vision: Enhance the robot arm's capabilities by integrating sensors and computer vision. These technologies enable the arm to detect objects and automate tasks like picking and placing. RO1 comes equipped with a camera and vision software for object identification right out of the box.

The costs of owning a Programmable robot arm

Once you’ve decided on a Programmable robot arm, you’ll still need to pay some mind to the total cost of ownership. The initial purchase price ($2,000 to over $100k) is only part of the total cost. 

You’ll also need to factor in costs for:

  • Setup and integration essentials: If robotics isn't your forte, consider getting a professional to correctly set up and integrate your new robotic arm. This task encompasses linking the arm with your computing environment and any additional devices, plus tweaking the software to your needs. Be ready for installation services to increase your overall expenditure by 10-30%.
  • Important safety measures: Handling programmable robot arms without the right safety precautions can lead to accidents. Essential safety features include emergency stops, protective barriers, and enclosures to shield users. Depending on the arm's requirements, investing in extra monitoring tools such as sensors or cameras is very recommended.

    The cost for these safety implementations typically falls between $5,000 and $30,000.
  • Programming and fine-tuning: Allocating a budget for programming, whether done in-house or through specialists, is crucial for making the most of your robot arm. Costs for programming are wide-ranging but can soar to $25,000-$100,000 for more sophisticated setups. No-code frameworks can save you a lot of money. 
  • Ongoing upkeep: Ensuring the robot arm's peak performance and safety pretty much necessitates regular upkeep, which includes checking for wear and tear, securing loose joints, and keeping the arm clean. Software also needs to be kept up-to-date. In some cases, the annual maintenance is estimated to cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

The good part, though? Programmable robot arms typically pay for themselves within 1-3 years.

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RO1 by Standard Bots

RO1 is designed to make automation accessible to everyone, regardless of their programming expertise

How? By leveraging no-code software.

Instead of complex coding languages, RO1 uses an intuitive interface that allows users to program tasks through simple drag-and-drop actions and pre-built commands

This eliminates the need for extensive programming knowledge, making it perfect for businesses and individuals who are new to robotics.

Beyond its user-friendly interface, the RO1 has advanced capabilities like:

  • Advanced vision: RO1 can "see" its surroundings and react accordingly. This enables tasks like object recognition, part inspection, and precise Pick and Place motions.
  • Collaborative: RO1 can safely operate side-by-side with human employees. 
  • APIs: RO1 integrates seamlessly with various applications and software through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) – this allows for easy integration with existing data platforms.
  • State-of-the-art AI: RO1 is powered by an AI at the level of GPT-4, enabling it to learn and adapt over time. This allows it to continuously improve its performance and handle new tasks with much more efficiency. 
  • Best-in-class payload, half the cost: Boasting an 18 kg payload, RO1 tops its class while starting at half the price of its closest competitors. 

ABB YuMi (IRB 1400)

The YuMi, by robotics giant ABB, is another collaborative powerhouse. 

Let’s take a look at some of its key features: 

  • Features a user-friendly programming interface called "Wizard Easy Programming," allowing drag-and-drop and visual programming for basic tasks.
  • Offers pre-programmed applications for common tasks like pick and place, which simplifies set-up.
  • While not as straightforward as RO1 with its no-code approach, the YuMi offers a good balance between functionalities and ease of use compared to ABB's more industrial models.
  • It's important to note that while the YuMi is considered easier to set up compared to other ABB models, it still requires some technical knowledge and might not be exactly beginner-friendly.

Franka Emika Panda

The Franka Emika Panda is a great entry-level choice, especially because of its lower payload of 3 kg. 

Here’s why it’s a great Programmable robot arm: 

  • Flexibility in programming: The Panda offers a versatile open control architecture, granting you the freedom to program it in various ways. Whether through Franka's intuitive web interface for quick program creation and simulation or by using its Software Development Kit (SDK) for coding in other programming languages.
  • Designed for delicate operations: With 7 axes of movement and torque sensors in every joint, the Panda is exceptionally suited for tasks requiring a gentle touch.
  • Torque-sensing in every joint: This provides the Panda with the sensitivity needed for precision tasks.
  • Built-in safety mechanisms: These features are critical for tasks that require a high degree of safety and precision.
  • Highly adaptable: The open control architecture means the Panda can be tailored to a wide array of tasks, from simple to complex, adapting as your automation requirements evolve.

Should you program a robot arm yourself or get someone else to do it?

You'll need to determine if you have the skills and resources to take it on yourself or if hiring an expert is the better option.

Take these factors into account: 

  • Evaluate your business's technical capabilities and assess whether your team has the expertise to handle programming in-house. If your staff includes individuals with programming skills and a keen interest in robotics, taking on the task internally could align well with your business's growth and learning objectives.
  • If the project's technical requirements go over your team's current expertise or if you're pressed for time, consider the advantages of hiring an experienced robotics professional. This guarantees that your robot arm is seamlessly integrated into your operations.
  • Deciding between in-house programming and outsourcing involves considering your business's operational needs, costs, the potential for staff development, and the importance of a quick, reliable setup. 

Think long and hard about your long-term goals and the strategic value of each option to guide your decision.


How difficult are robot arms to program?

The good news is that programming a robot arm has become much more intuitive in recent years. No-code platforms like RO1 use a simple drag-and-drop interface to control the arm and gripper. You just need to understand some basic logic and sequences. For more complex tasks, you may need to learn a text-based programming language like Python. But many robot arms now have SDKs (software development kits) with libraries that handle the complicated parts for you.

How much does a programmable robot arm cost?

Robot arm prices can range from under $10,000 up to $100,000 or more for large industrial arms. The total cost depends on the arm’s size, speed, precision, and programming features. You’ll also need to budget for initial setup and integration with your other systems. And don’t forget ongoing costs like maintenance, spare parts, and software licenses or subscriptions. For small businesses and hobbyists, a tabletop arm with a no-code platform can be quite affordable, starting around $5,000 to $10,000.

Can I program the robot arm myself?

Whether or not you program the robot arm yourself depends on your technical skills and how much time you want to devote to the task. No-code platforms make it possible for almost anyone to get started with basic programming. But for complex automations or integrations, you may prefer to hire an expert. 

Robotics engineers and systems integrators can handle everything from choosing the right arm for your needs to full installation and programming. If you have ambitious plans for your robot arm, getting professional help is probably worth the investment.

Summing up

That’s the scoop on the top 3 programmable robot arms to keep your eye on in 2024. From the versatile and easy-to-use RO1 to other options, now you've got a good sense of what's out there and how to think through your options.

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