Mar. 7, 2015 | By Simon

Among other applications for 3D printing that have truly taken off into industries of their own - robotics - and more specifically, open source robotics,  are among the most popular.  Unsurprisingly, 3D printing fits perfectly into open source robot design thanks to the ability to quickly 3D model and work through physical iterations of different part and engineering system prototypes that otherwise would be outrageously expensive to produce using traditional manufacturing methods.  Additionally, the wealth of resources online for open source microcontrollers have helped catapult the open source robot industry even further than many might have previously anticipated.    

Among other open source robot designers is Madis Kaasik, who, along with his development team, developed the Pi Tank open source robot using a Raspberry Pi and 3D printing.  

Conceived of during the Garage48 hackathon, the Pi Tank was “born” at 4 AM the night before, when Kaasik was looking at the resources that the hackathon would provide.  Among them, Raspberry Pi staff were on hand to act as mentors, 3D printing was provided by Mass Portal, Microsoft provided their products including the Microsoft Kinect.  Additionally, the Estonian Defence Academy were on hand to help answer questions and offer support for the hackers.

While each of the Raspberry Pi, Mass Portal, Microsoft and Estonian Defence Academy were there to act as resources based on individual needs during the 48-hour hackathon, Kaasik decided - while burning the midnight oil - that he was going to use all of them to develop what would become the Pi Tank.  

Consisting of 3D printed parts, a Microsoft Kinect sensor, a Raspberry Pi as a brain and a mobile phone - controlled interface, the Pi Tank was developed to be easily remixed for those who might want their own ‘pet robot’ or even a military-grade robot depending on the desired application.  

To create the housing of the robot, Kaasik used both Sketchup and Solid Edge to create 3D printable designs.  Thanks to the support of Mass Portal being on hand during the event, he was able to print the pieces using Mass Portal’s Pharaoh printers using PLA from ColorFabb.  

As for what the Pi Tank is capable of, due to its open source nature, it is capable of doing pretty much anything a hacker wants it to do.  At its core however, it is able to drive and look around using the Kinect as its ‘eyes’.  There are plans to add additional features using different apps that will be available on both Google Play and the Apple App Store.  Among the apps that are currently in development include a mapping app that creates a two-dimensional map based on what the robot sees, a ‘robot pet’ app that allows a user to train their robot similar to a dog, as well as some military-specific apps.  

In building the Pi Tank, Kaasik wants to provide the same open source platform mindset that Raspberry Pi was able to do, however with a focus on robots that can be built from cheap and readily-accessible materials.  

“Everybody loves robots, but when smart guys build them, play with them once and then leave them to the atticts - nobody wins,” said Kristjan Järvan, CEO of Pi Tank in an interview with 3Ders.   

“If we have a unified hardware platform - software can take over with rapid development.”

If the success of the Raspberry Pi is any indication, the Pi Tank just might be one of the best and most successful applications for 3D printing and robotics that we’ve seen yet.


To get started on your own Pi Tank, Kaasik has generously supplied everything you need to get started.  The code is available over at GitHub while the 3D printable files are over on Thingiverse.  For a more detailed explanation of the build, head over to Kaasik’s personal website.   


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Confused wrote at 3/8/2015 6:37:07 PM:

This article fails to mention what the benefit of a rotating extruder is.

Ian wrote at 3/8/2015 1:33:14 PM:

You know as good as this is I see the funny side of this story. For years we have bee building things smaller. Valve - transistor - vlsi pkgs. now we have to build things bigger. Ironic. But really cool

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