Dobot has recently released the second version of their robotic arm. The Dobot Magician can actually be considered a learning platform for robotics, programming and manufacturing methods for makers. It includes end effectors for pick and place operations, 3D printing and laser engraving. It is positioned as a robotic arm for educational purposes, light industrial use and hobby projects at home. Basically a robotic arm for everyone, the folks at Dobot are certainly very ambitious!
In this article I will describe my first impressions of the Dobot Magician, from unboxing to the first drawing and pick and place exercises. I have only limited experience with the Dobot at the time of writing, so I will not be able to draw solid conclusions.
In September 2015 the Dobot V1.0 was successfully funded on kickstarter. It was a programmable arm with already many of the functions of the new Dobot Magician. However, the Magician has many improvements over it’s predecessor, which mainly focus on improving usability and making it easier to expand the robot arm for various tasks using the many built in IO ports. In my opinion the white ABS panels also look great, and give the arm a somewhat storm trooper-like appearance.
In the video below shows detailed views of the supplied accessories and the Dobot in action using the drawing and teaching modules. More detailed information and close ups of the arm can be found in the remainder of this article.
Build quality impressions
The robot arm itself is made from 6061 anodized aluminum. This goes for both the outside panels as well as the arms used for the positioning of the various joints. All moving parts are fitted with ball bearings, which do not exhibit noticeable play. The overall finish of the parts is exceeding my expectations. With limited use I cannot say anything yet about durability, but my first impression is that of a well constructed motion system.
The injection molded parts have a similar good finish. One thing I could comment on there is a slight misalignment of the side covers at the back of the unit. Since this is not really noticeable in everyday use I do not consider this to be a big issue.
The connectors for the various I/O ports work well, but care needs to be taken when removing them. These connectors seem less suitable for frequent use, but should do the job if you handle them with care. On the other hand, the connectors all appear to be standard JST connectors, so it should be easy to hook up 3rd party or self made modules and sensors to the I/O ports.
End Effectors and Accessories
The Dobot Magician comes in two flavors; there is a “basic plan” and an “advanced educational plan”. The list of supplied accessories is quite extensive:
- Vacuum Cup
- Drawing kit
- 3D printing kit
- Bluetooth module
Included in advanced educational plan only:
- Laser Engraving kit
- Wifi Module
- Joystick control kit including USB host module
My pre-order kit of the educational plan was also supplied with a Leap Motion controller, but this is no longer listed on the site as an option. Click on the thumbnails in the gallery below for a detailed view of the accessories.
The end effectors and communication modules can all be connected to either the connectors on the forearm or at the back of the base, depending on the placement of the accessory. All of the connectors are nicely labeled, so you should be able to connect each item without consulting the manual.
The arm is easy to operate. The user can choose from various input methods like the teach button on the arm, software keys, game controller, mouse or even a leap motion kit. I found that using the teach button on the forearm is very useful for quickly moving to a rough position, but in situations where position is critical it is best to set the final position with the soft keys or typing in the exact coordinate in the software.
The arm is driven by stepper motors. This means it has very well controlled smooth motions, unlike some cheaper robot arms driven by small servo motors. The typical stepper stepper noise is noticeable, but in my opinion at a very acceptable level. The vacuum pump is somewhat louder and sounds like a Senseo coffee machine. Not disturbing, but certainly not something you would want to have on for prolonged periods if you are using the Dobot in your living room. The fourth axis, used for rotating the end effector is the only axis driven by a servo. The small servo makes sense in this case since this axis is less demanding for speed and torque. Also it limits the weight at the end of the forearm.
A polished startup guide is supplied with the Dobot, but the electronic manual which can be downloaded online provides much more useful step by step guides for installing drivers, making connections and how to use the software. It covers all of the basic functions for each accessory and is quite easy to read. More detailed manuals are also available, for people wanting to get the most out of their robot arm.
As mentioned earlier, the Dobot magician is more than just a robot arm, it is a multi functional platform which can be used for educational purposes as wel as a highly customizable tool for your projects. The Dobot comes with a dedicated software program that includes all of the features. From the main menu there are various modules available which have a specific environment dedicated for the end effector.
It is not required to have an engineering degree to use the Dobot, but it does help if you have a high interest in technology and are not afraid to learn new things. You can start out very simple, by using the teach and playback module. This allows you to get familiar with the vacuum cup, gripper and the various methods of operating the arm. The system is very well thought out in managing the learning curve. It allows you to play around with the various options and end effectors, but is also suitable for advanced users who are not afraid of writing their own code. Even for writing programs there are two levels of difficulty built in. Programming the Dobot it is possible using a visual programming interface based on Google blockly, but also using the more difficult to master Python script language.
Currently I only have experience with the drawing module and the teach and playback module (see video). I am planning to post more articles and maybe even a full review when I have used the other functions like laser engraving or 3D printing. At this time I can say that I am quite positive about the overall experience and build quality of the arm.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.