Artificial intelligence has come a long way – just look at the waves being made by AI chatbot ChatGPT right now. But for many of us, we dream of a world where AI is not bound to a computer screen, and where a world of smart robots ready to do our bidding take care of the mundane tasks of everyday life. What would you make your robot do? You might think such technology would cost a fortune, but PIB is putting robots in the hands of everyone. An acronym for Printable Intelligent Bot, not only can PIB’s parts be printed at home using a 3D printer, but it’s also an open source project, meaning that anyone from anywhere in the world can study how PIB is made, make suggestions, and even modify it.
isento GmBH, the company that created PIB, has been humbled by the growth of the project. It’s now even being used in schools to teach students. PIB is 3D printed, which means it consists of plastic parts, using white PETG as material to give it a very friendly and a little bit of a sci-fi look. PIB is kept as close to human proportions as possible, though there are currently no legs. It has easy access to the electronics and mechanical parts, and it is also easy to transport. PIB can perform basic movements, like lifting or stretching an arm, open and close a hand, or moving the head. More complex skills include imitating the hand movement of a person that stands beside it, using an external sensor to allow it to follow the movement. Another complex skill shows a social or curious side of PIB, which uses basic AI technologies to detect and follow, with the head or vision, a person standing in front of it or passing by.
isento is currently working towards a finished, stable version of PIB in their robotics lab, which involves assembling and disassembling PIB several times a day to test new parts. The right arm and the right clavicle, currently being tested as part of the shoulder development, weighs 3kg. The company wanted to give PIB a very friendly look, so they chose a humanoid face with a neutral expression. Jürgen Baier, CEO of isento and the founder and visionary behind PIB, said, “If it’s always smiling, that might look very friendly in the beginning but might give you a bit of a strange feeling after a few days.”
Feedback from the PIB community was that the face was a little bit too human, and the cameras in the eyes made it look “scary” or “spooky”. So they are now developing a face that is a little bit more abstract to creates an emotional distance between the user and PIB itself. Baier explains, “The biggest change will be the nose. Right now it has a human nose, which sticks out a little bit. And we are going to use a camera that has three sensors – one in each eye, like a standard stereo camera, and a depth sensor, which is something like a third eye. But having a third hole between the eyes gave it an even more spooky appearance.” The abstract face will now have a stylized nose that will consist of three holes that are arranged in a triangle. The upper hole will hold the third sensor of the camera, and the other two holes are just for aesthetic purposes. The mouth will also be less human, with less prominent lips.
One of the most difficult parts of the human body to mimic is the thumb, and the team had some difficulties constructing a thumb that allowed a nice gripping movement. The thumb opposition is a feature that is very important and will be very prominent, so they tried to implement a smooth and soft bionic movement. Bionic means as close to the human body as possible. “Actually, this week, we had a major breakthrough, and I think we achieved something this week that helps it a lot,” says Baier. “We are trying to improve, build, test, and improve by hand in a cycle so that maybe at the end of this week, we can say hand is stable and this can be published like it is.”
Constructing a humanoid robot is a big task. isento, at the moment, has 65 employees, which is too small for such a huge, immense task. But Baier believes in the capabilities of a community. “It was important for us to open source PIB, to build a community that people can join in, where specialists of different disciplines can join, exchange, and foster the development of a common idea, of a common vision, towards the humanoid project. We want PIB to be an expression of how we see interactions, of how we see communities, of how we want to make our footprint in the world, that we have a product that is carried by a community, and developed by a community, that it connects people, so that it’s not only a robot that can be assembled and then that can be bought, but it’s something that people can join in as part of their life and where they can be creative. PIB is much better already than it would have been if it was just us.”
When isento published PIB in the open source, they didn’t really know what to expect. The acceptance and enthusiasm of the community came as a surprise, and they now have a much bigger community than they originally dreamed of. This has led to community-led changes in the design, such as the current shoulder version, with the implementation of the current two degree of freedom shoulder, which came from the community. In the very first version of PIP, the motors for the finger were very close to the fingers, which seemed a smart way to do things. The problem is, when you have the motors in the lower arm, the arm gets very heavy. The community suggested a wire concept, relocating most of the motors to the upper body. “Looking back, I don’t know why we didn’t start with that idea right away, because it’s so straightforward and so logical,” laughed Baier. “But we were just following our thoughts.”
We are on the brink of a robotic revolution. Our daily lives, work lives, and private lives will be influenced in the future through robotics. Currently, we have simple helpers at home. We have dishwashers, washing machines, we have a device that helps us hoovering our living rooms. Some people have stuff in the garden that cuts grass. “My firm belief is that in future we will have support robots that can take over daily business tasks,” said Baier. “In my personal dream they can find my keys and make my morning coffee, and when I come home from work, the kitchen is clean and everything is in its place. We want to lead and shape the development towards this idea.” Until then, the time until PIB is able to take over many household tasks depends on the community. Baier added, “If people continue to join our community and contribute, it will be possible to have a PIB that is actually a reasonable member of a family or household within a few years.”
There’s a wide variety of skill sets brought together with the PIB community project, and not everyone has experience using computer-aided design software. And that’s why PTC is CAD solution, Onshape, is the ideal solution due to its interface and ease of use technology. There are really three things that make Onshape ideal for the PIB community project. One is everyone can access it easily. Onshape is the only professional-level CAD and PDM system that is truly cloud native – it runs in any web browser, even on any mobile phone or tablet. What that means is everyone on the team can get access to it instantly.
The models, drawings, product specifications and other information in the Onshape document can all be shared in real time with everybody. There’s no copying, there’s no “Who’s got the latest version?” – it’s shared in real time in a database. So that means that everyone can collaborate and see the up-to-date model, or they can go back to any previous state – there’s even branching and merging, like you see in collaborative software projects. So that’s point two, all the data shared in real time, no files, no copies.
Anyone on the team can fearlessly make changes and explore design ideas without worrying about overwriting each other’s work, without worrying about messing up the system. Because again, change is built into the fabric. We have a next-generation approach to PDM, to data management. And that means the team has opportunity for all this creativity while still having the data under control and management.
With the large number of contributors to this project, Onshape’s database-driven architecture comes into its own, since it allows you to track who’s done what to the various design files. The more people you have on the project, the more Onshape is valuable, because it tracks every edit that’s ever been made, who did it and when. Not every version of a file or an undo list or something, but every single edit. So you can see what people did and track it all. It makes it really easy for this kind of a project where lots of people are collaborating and you don’t have to worry about losing data. You just can’t do that with older file-based tools.
Thanks to Jon and to Jurgen for showing us PIB at isento’s headquarters.
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This is an 18Sixty production for PTC. Executive producer is Jacqui Cook. Sound design, editing and recording by Ollie Guillou. And music by Rowan Bishop.