Dec 26, 2015 | By Kira
Earlier this year, we wrote about PLEN2, an adorable, 3D printable open-source humanoid robot developed in Japan. Capable of walking, picking up small objects, dancing, and mimicking human actions, the bi-pedal PLEN2 was designed to humanize robots, and to show that when embraced in a positive manner, robotic and scientific technology can actually enrich our lives, whether for leisure, education, or medical purposes. To that end, the developers made the 3D data for PLEN’s main components freely available online, and its Arduino-compatible software is completely open source, meaning that programmers of all levels can modify its program for their specific needs. Yet despite these open-source efforts, building your own PLEN2 at home is still quite expensive. The official assembly kit sells for $899, and even if you 3D print all the parts yourself, the control boards and servo motors set alone is $549 plus shipping. Suddenly, little PLEN2 just isn't as adorable as it was a few seconds ago.
However, taking the open source and hackability movement to heart, the makers over at BinarySpace, a hackerspace located in South Africa, developed their own derivative 3D printed humanoid robot that uses low-cost and locally available 9g servos rather than the expensive and notoriously hard to find motors that the original model required. Significantly cheaper, locally made, and entirely available on Github to be copied or recreated by anyone, PLENZA is South Africa’s take on the PLEN2 3D printed robot.
For all intents and purposes, PLENZA can do just about anything the PLEN2 can do. In fact, the 3D printed parts were all inspired by the original, however they were redrawn from scratch by designer Andries Smuts in order to accommodate cheaper 9g motors that are available just about anywhere, particularly in South Africa (the ZA in the name is South Africa’s official abbreviation, coming from the Dutch Zuid-Afrika). This clever re-design and use of alternative parts has had a huge impact on the overall price and make-ability of the 3D printed mini-bot: Tom Van den Bon, BinarySpace Co-Founder, said that they are aiming for the PLENZA to cost a mere R2,000, or $132.45 USD to recreate. That’s a reduction of nearly 85%!
During the Kickstarter campaign for the PLEN2 (which successfully raised $66,000), company founder Natsuo Akazawa said that the aim of building humanoid robots was to open up the relationship between humans and technology. “We do not believe that robots should replace people, but that they should complement our abilities. We strongly believe that scientific technology can enrich everyone in society, if we embrace it in a positive manner.” So, while the BinarySpace team has noted that their PLENZA is still a work in progress (“We are still busy building and testing it. Proceed at own risk,” they warned), it’s nevertheless an extremely promising and heartening appropriation of a project who’s main goal was to improve the accessibility and acceptance of robotic technology in the first place, and we can only imagine that the PLEN Project Committee--who featured the PLENZA on their page--feels just the same.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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