Robots are cool. When I was a kid R2-D2 and Rosie were fabrications of a fantastic, future-like world. Now, BB-8 and Beamo are incredibly close to reality.
Sphero, a robotics company, has even put out a working toy version of the new Star Wars robot that is incredibly close to the movie version in appearance and function (unlike the rinky-dink action figures of my childhood).
Robotics is low-hanging fruit when it comes to getting kids involved in the world of STEM. Events like Maker Faire and FIRST Robotics feature inspired designs from the hands of kids, and give them the opportunity to get hands-on experience with robots.
Now, there is even a robotics company that is run by two of Tormach’s youngest machinists. Camille and Genevieve Beatty, with a little help from their father, have made several commissioned robots for various museums.
Genevieve and Camille started building robots when they were 9 and 11, respectively, and got into CNC by building their own machine from scratch. They quickly realized the need for more rigidity and precision to build their robots. “We cobbled together our own CNC by buying stepper motors, and Z axes, and built our own computer. We basically built our own homemade CNC,” explains Robert Beatty, the girls’ father. “In particular, we wanted to be able to change tools rapidly. Our homemade CNC was just a collet with wrenches – it was a pain to have to change tools. So much so that we tried to design parts and our operations such that we didn’t have to change a tool.”
Now with a PCNC 1100, the girls have a full array of 20 different tools and utilize a power drawbar. They also made a custom enclosure that was designed around a specific vise-system. “It’s quite a large vise and it is bolted to the table semi-permanently, so we wanted the enclosure to wrap around it,” Dad explains. Their enclosure design led to further customization with the electronics on the front of the enclosure and bracketing elements for various tools and the jog shuttle.
Like any good Maker, Camille and Genevieve use a fine combination of off-the-shelf components, parts hacked out of other devices, and custom-made parts on their Tormach. One of the first robots they constructed had a unibody design that pushed the machine’s Z-axis to its limit, and also provided some serious education in work-holding, since the piece had features on every side, requiring eight different clamping orientations.