Meet Dexter: the first general purpose robot to be made in regional Australia

Meet Dexter: the first general purpose robot to be made in regional Australia article image

The historic garden city of Toowoomba in Queensland’s Darling Downs seems an unlikely place to establish a cutting-edge robotics facility.

But this location is the preferred choice of Las Vegas based robotics company Haddington Dynamics. Launched earlier this year, it’s the company’s first micro-factory outside the US.

Haddington Dynamics has developed a unique and affordable robot arm it calls Dexter – with capabilities that will astound you.

Dexter has been designed to bring cost-effective robotic automation to the masses.

It is constructed from 3D-printed parts, so that new designs can be rapidly implemented without the retooling costs associated with traditional mass production.

But wait there’s more.

What makes it truly unique is the innovative technology that allows it to perform at the highest level of efficiency and most importantly – accuracy.

The secret to Dexter’s performance is the use of a specially-designed FPGA supercomputer.

FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) are amazing devices that allow developers to create their own digital circuits.

Father of FPGA supercomputing

Haddington Dynamics co-founder Kent Gilson, a robotics expert and inventor, is widely considered to be the father of FPGA supercomputing.

A FPGA chipset is roughly the same size as an Arduino or Raspberry Pi but more than 1000 times more powerful.

Gilson has previously created his own language, Viva, to configure the FPGA units. In the past he has worked with NASA and Microsoft among other industry heavyweights to deploy supercomputing powered hardware systems.

Dexter has been a work in progress for Gilson for more than eight years.

But it wasn’t until he launched a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017 that the project really gained momentum.

Haddington Dynamics exceeded the target of $100,000 and soon after were delivering the early kit versions of Dexter.

Standout feature

The standout feature of the DexterHDI collaborative robot is the – better than human – haptic feedback derived via the 3D printed optical encoders.

Using some serious mathematics and the relatively cheap power of the FPGA processor, the system can determine over a million positions per encoder disk revolution resulting in incredible precision. Dexter can “feel” natively without the need for additional sensors.

Dexter’s optical encoders are placed directly on each joint, with resolutions that aren’t possible with any other control system. The angle of each joint is monitored down to one second of arc, which is 1/1,296,000 of a full rotation.

The FPGA has enough horsepower to poll two million samples per second, so Dexter always knows exactly how it is currently positioned.

The exceptional polling rate makes it possible for Dexter to perform like no other comparable robots.

For example, if you accidentally bump into a Dexter robot while it’s operating, it can immediately respond by either moving back into position or to a safe location. It can do that in just a fraction of a second, which dramatically improves operator safety.

Widespread Australian interest

With prices starting at just over A$4,000, Dexter is one of the least expensive 5-axis robot arms on the market.

The robot is not only attracting widespread interest from Australia’s manufacturing industry, but also from leading roboticists.

Jason Hampton-Taylor, International Director of Sales and Marketing, who is currently based in Brisbane, says the robotics team at CSIRO Data61 will soon be deploying Dexter at its Queensland facility.

Hampton-Taylor is part of the team that recently visited the new Toowoomba facility to officially commission and certify the company’s first licensee – DCISIV Technologies Pty Ltd (pronounced Decisive)

Ben Leamon, a graduate of the University of Queensland, will be heading up DCISIV with his father Ross.

Ben travelled to Las Vegas late last year to complete the first stage of training and on his return to Australia has been busy preparing a dedicated 3D print farm in Toowoomba. This is one of the unique methods Haddington Dynamics employ to manufacture the DexterHDI robots in what is the cutting edge of Industry 4.0.

Tip of the iceberg

DCISIV Technologies is currently putting together a version of the Microfactory under the guidance from the Haddington Dynamics experts.

“We have a great belief in the future of direct digital manufacturing and its potential to reform our own manufacturing industry,” Ben says. “We see this as the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential. The foresight and generosity of the Business Queensland Business Growth Fund program helped us kickstart this project after pitching our vision for the business.”

“We are excited to see this vision now becoming reality and even more excited to see our vision aligning with that of Haddington Dynamics. Our goal is to become a valued, trusted and reliable extension of the Haddington ecosystem and produce robots of the same technical calibre and quality as Haddington themselves, right here out of Toowoomba.

“We also plan to actively contribute to the project in terms of its technical development.”

Haddington Dynamic’s DexterHDI represents a first principal rethink of the collaborative robot platform.

The latest model Haddington Dynamics DexterHDI collaborative robot to be produced in Australia will incorporate the latest advances in torque sensitivity and kinematic feedback, vision system readiness, tool change systems and retail food service readiness.

It also has a tested capacity for a light industrial duty cycle which translates to earning a place in industrial applications such as camera-based inspection, polishing, deburring, bin picking, medical and retail applications at around a third of the price of any similar payload robotic arm.

Strong commitment to education

In addition to industrial applications Haddington Dynamics has a strong commitment to education and STEM skills.

New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) have been an early adopter of the system and have developed a curriculum around 3D printing, assembling and programming the DexterHDI platform.

Engaging with the Australian, New Zealand and Singaporean education systems will be a priority for Haddington Dynamics in the region.

While DCISIV Technologies will be the certified manufacturer under licence in the region for Haddington Dynamics sales focused resellers have already been engaged.

In Australian and New Zealand SFDesign are the official reseller.

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