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Here's why you need a robot arm

                                                              March, 2014
Perhaps one of the most well-known features of a robot - humanoid or otherwise, real or imaginary - is the robot arm. With the exception of the R2-D2 from Star Wars, just about every robot you come across will have a robot arm of some sort - whether it's the Mars Curiosity rover or that pesky contraption in Iron Man that keeps dosing Tony Stark with water when there actually wasn't a fire. In the real world, these robot arms are very useful for a fairly wide range of functions - from space exploration to car manufacturing. Let's take a quick look at some of the uses of robot arms that we see today.

Firstly, we have the Canadarm, which was situated on a space shuttle and employed to move payload around. The Canadarms of a space shuttle are also capable of monitoring the condition of the space shuttle for damage. So, yes, this is a pretty neat robot arm and represents a sophisticated piece of technology integral to the space shuttle era.

Then there's the whole military side to robots, and thus, robotic arms. Minesweeping robots, in particular, find robotic arms to be very important in searching the general terrain for mines. Earlier this year, the University of Coimbra (in Portugal) announced the construction of a minesweeping robot that had an elongated arm packed with sensors (such as magnetic devices) just waiting to find an undetonated mine.

Moving on from space exploration and military technology, we arrive at industry. In this technological age, industrial manufacture of key technologies is crucial. Fortunately for all of you enthusiastic, tech-loving humans out there, we have robot arms that are able to ensure both speed and precision in the construction of technological gadgets. Industrial robot arms take on a variety of tasks, including welding, drilling, and painting. Some of these robot arms can also move pieces and parts from one location to another, making the assembly line process rapid and efficient. Let's just say that a world without industrial robot arms wouldn't be very fun - and it would take a while to mass-produce that flashy (or not so flashy) new car you'd love to have.

There's one more significant application of robotic arms that should be mentioned. In medicine, robotic arms are becoming increasingly prevalent. Unlike a beginning physician's hand - which might shake just a tiny bit during a surgical operation - a robotic arm operating on a patient has all the accuracy and deftness of a world-class surgeon. If you're interested in looking deeper into this topic, begin by checking out the neuroArm.

Now that you're all pumped up about robot arms, let's consider what kind of robot arm kits are out there that you can purchase - either for yourself, your child, or a friend. We begin by taking a quick peek at the mini-programmable-robot-arm, which you can find here, at Restech. This robot arm is perfect for kids who are eager to start learning about the programming aspects of robotics. Specifically, this robot arm's ATMEGA64 microcontroller can be programmed with C (which can be done with completely free software). Since C is a pretty common programming language in robotics, this robot arm kit will provide a good foundation for further ventures in this area.

Perhaps you're looking for something a bit simpler - an easy-to-build robot arm that requires no programming skills (perhaps for a younger child).  If this is the case, you have no need to worry because that's exactly what the USB robot arm kit is all about, which you can find on our website. Building this robot arm is straightforward: it's merely a matter of connecting the different parts together with screws. It's powered by 4 D size batteries (but we include them with the kit!), and it comes equipped with a searchlight (you can turn it on or off, too), which is great because it means that you can see what your robot arm is up to in the dark of the night.

What makes this robot arm kit especially awesome, though, is the fact that you actually do have the option to program it (but you don't have to). This robot arm kit comes with special software that you install on your computer, and from there it's easy to program the movements of your robot arm. So if you're interested in the programming aspects of robotics - or if you're not - this might be the robot arm for you.

Of course, there are other robot arm kits out there that you should check out. There's also a currently ongoing Kickstarter project that's aiming to make miniature industrial robot arms for your desk. It seems like a neat idea, so give it a look!

By now, you might be wondering what a robot arm would be good for. Of course, building a robot arm requires diligence and an understanding of basic design logic, so you'd gain useful knowledge from this perspective. Furthermore, toying around with a programmable robot arm is an excellent way to learn a programming language: any time you make a change in the lines of code, you can see very real results (either your robot will do something whacky and entirely unintended, or it will be your faithful servant - depending on your code). There are other reasons to be interested in a robot arm aside from the skills you can learn from building and programming such a contraption. Naturally, having a robot arm that can pick stuff up is quite fun, and such a robot arm could act as your desktop pal. Is something just barely out of your reach? Employ your robot arm and see if you can get that object without having to get up. There's more, too: you can opt to customize part of the robot arm (perhaps you'd prefer suction cups to grippers at the end of the arm, for example), and see where that takes you. Maybe, just maybe, if you're really excited about robot arms, you could create a miniature assembly line that is actually able to make something. Just think about the numerous possibilities your robot arm offers, and have fun with it!