Running a small business is challenging enough without trying to compete with a factory full of robotic arms. To help level the playing field, a Chinese startup has unveiled the Dobot M1, a consumer-level programmable robotic arm with interchangeable tool heads and kits for soldering, sorting, engraving, cutting, 3D printing and manufacturing.

The first Dobot model was successfully funded and produced last year, but where that focused on creative pursuits like drawing and painting, Dobot M1 is a little more industrial and versatile. It's designed for small business use in workshops and warehouses, and depending on what tool you put in its hand, it can be put to work on a variety of jobs.

Sitting at 52.7 cm (20.8 in) tall, the basic unit's arm has a reach of 40 cm (15. 7 in), and can carry a load of up to 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). Instructions can be relayed to the machine through a choice of Ethernet cable, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or RS 232, and it can be programmed or directly controlled through a mobile app or a Windows, Mac or Linux-based computer. Dobot M1 is built on an open API and SDK for those who want to get into the nitty-gritty of putting it to work, but there's a simpler visual programming language, built on Blockly, to help the code-illiterate talk to the machine.

Dobot M1's versatility comes from swapping out the tools at the end of its arm. For the basic act of picking stuff up, there's a claw-like gripper and a suction cup. A 3D printer head can turn it into a versatile additive manufacturing device, while a Pulse Width Modulated laser attachment can engrave images, text or photos onto a material. There's a head for soldering, too, although it comes as a more expensive extension kit, instead of a basic toolhead.

The robot comes with various senses loaded in, too, but taking advantage of them will require more of these extension kits. Equipped with a vision kit, the Dobot M1 can recognize objects and colors on a production line and sort them accordingly, and the machine has a built-in mapping and path-planning system as well – provided you're willing to fork out a sizeable sum for a mobility platform. Get two or more of them together and they can also be programmed to work cooperatively.

The Dobot M1 is currently being funded through Kickstarter, where it's already more than doubled its US$100,000 target. Pledges start at $1,599 for the unit and the buyer's choice of two basic toolheads, while an extension kit will run $2,099. The campaign runs until January 13, and if all goes to plan, the Dobot M1 should ship in May 2017.

The campaign video can be seen below.

Source: Dobot

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