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CODE_n: Needle-gripper ROBOCHOP, 3D printing and IoT

There’s a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and the swaying is making me worry I might hurl. I am on board the HMS President, a striking graffiti-style black and white ship that is hard to miss on the Embankment at the River Thames. As I glance around, the chopping robot is nowhere to be found and I wonder if I will get to see it later…

CODE_n  has invited us to check out ROBOCHOP, a robot that you can control to design and build something using just an app. CODE_n runs an international innovation contest every year for young entrepreneurs and this year’s theme is Internet of Things. There are a few startups on board here to give a sneak peek into their ideas but there are 50 finalists overall. This event is sort of a practice-run before the final showcase in Hannover later this month at CeBit.

After a few meet and greets and an official welcome by CODE_n, EY kick off the presentation by talking about the Internet of Things. They discuss how driverless cars could lead to “huge unemployment” but say that we do have the “infrastructure to facilitate the process”. The issue of cyber-security is also discussed: What if 5000 cars on the street are hacked into at the same time? If hackers get into smart meters, then wrong information could be sent to utilities companies. EY finish by saying that driverless cars are more likely to succeed in urban areas rather than rural areas, but that “operating models should be considered carefully in the future”.

Next up is the guy behind the ROBOCHOP, Clemens Weisshaar. Weisshaar is full of energy and starts by showing off his chopping robot in a flashy video demonstration. Weisshaar admits that they are a “weird company” but dislike talking about technology in future terms. A “do-tank” rather than a “think-tank”, he wants to be known for “building the future”.

The concept behind ROBOCHOP is this: “you hit the robot with ideas and the robot will produce ideas”. Users get to draw their design on a phone app and four robots will cut the Styrofoam into that design and this will then be packaged and sent back to the user. The robots are equipped with needle-grippers and at the moment can cut in a polyline (straight line) and spline fashion (curved line).

Unfortunately the robots are all the way in Hannover so we can’t see them in action but I wonder how far this technology can go. At the moment the robots can only cut Styrofoam which gives it huge limitations. You also can’t do curvature in two directions at the same time.

I suppose once it can start working with a range of materials then the potential will really shine through. Then perhaps we can see it being useful for customised furniture builds. But just like driverless cars it raises the inevitable question: if something goes wrong who’s to blame? The robots or the humans?

One member of the audience asks Weisshaar what he thinks about 3D printing. Weisshaar responds by saying 3D printing is for “economists” and that “it takes too long” and is not a worthy investment. He says with ROBOCHOP you draw something and within 10 minutes you have a result and that too much preparation time is needed for 3D printing. According to Weisshaar, 3D printing “makes no sense to end-consumers”.

The sight of the needle-gripping robots has thankfully made me forget my queasy stomach and after some sandwiches and a delicious carrot cake it’s time to head off. 

Try the ROBOCHOP app here yourself. ROBOCHOP plans to ship 2000 of these packages out to people around the world for free.

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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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