All the stars were aligned for Automate 2015 to be a very exciting industrial robot show. Exhibit space was 80% larger than in 2013. Universal Robots was to showcase its new UR3 collaborative robot. And of course, Rethink Robotics was supposed to unveil its one-armed cobot, Sawyer. But it didn’t. And this probably darkened my perception of the show. (The fact that my first flight was delayed didn’t help either.)
Well, Delta robots may no longer be considered a novelty (at least the visitors of our robotics lab are no longer impressed by our FlexPicker), they are certainly here to stay. A new breed of four-armed parallel robots, however, starts to emerge. The first and best known member of this new family is the Quattro robot, introduced by Adept Technology in 2009, but several new examples are about to be launched. The main advantage of these new parallel robots is the elimination of the passive prismatic strut of 4-DOF Delta robots, which is the most problematic part in Delta robots.
Back in 2001, when I wrote my feature article Delta Parallel Robot — the Story of Success, Delta robots were already very popular and I knew at least a couple of non-engineers who liked building them from LEGO Mindstorms. A few years later, I helped Jamison Bruch, a young engineer from California eventually design a low-cost Delta robot. In June 2006, Novint launched their revolutionary Falcon haptic device based on the Delta robot. The device costs only $250 and I was certain that it would be a huge success, but I was wrong…
Meanwhile, the original Delta robot patents expired in Europe in December 2006 and in North America in December 2007. Dozens of companies now manufacture Delta robots for pick-and-place applications, as I recently wrote on this blog. However, Delta robots, and parallel robots in general, are still expensive, except probably the ones from TOSY Robotics, which seem unfortunately impossible to purchase in Canada.
Ever since I wrote my feature article on the Delta robot, more than a decade ago, I’ve been wondering whether the Delta robot — or any similar parallel robot — is really better than a SCARA robot. Of course, the Delta robot, invented by Prof. Reymond Clavel some thirty years ago, has been a huge success. More than 10,000 units of pick-and-place Delta robots have been sold by ABB, SIG, BOSCH and many other companies. (ABB alone claims to have sold more than 1800 units.) Now, that the original patent of the Delta robot has expired, there are dozens of companies manufacturing Delta robots for material handling applications (FANUC, Motoman, Kawasaki, Codian Robotics, Asyril, etc.). Some of these Deltas are suspiciously low-cost (TOSY Robotics of Vietnam sells their TI P306-01 Deltas for $2,500 each), but in general, a 4-axis Delta robot such as the FlexPicker costs more than $40,000.