An Oregon startup called Tend.ai has deployed a robotic arm, artificial intelligence and cloud computing to create an automated print farm. The robotic arm with attached webcam and gripper is trained through the Tend.ai computer module to perform all of the tasks necessary for operating a 3D printer farm. The webcam captures the data displayed on a printer’s LED screen, allowing its human user to make decisions remotely through the cloud. The arm can also be trained to perform such functions as pressing buttons on a printer, as well as removing a print from the printbed and dropping it onto a conveyor belt.
Tend.ai has built what it suggests is a universal machine automation solution that combines a number of components into a cloud robotics platform. While the specific make and model of each piece of hardware is left up to the user, all you need to get started with Tend.ai is a robotic arm, a webcam and a robotic gripper. These tools combined with a preconfigured, low-cost computer from Tend.ai allow for an automated method to handle a variety of machines, such as a room full of 3D printers.
In addition to the cloud robotics system itself, the company hopes to establish a repository for automation processes through an online community that is similar to Thingiverse for 3D printable designs. Through a beta program launching this July, Tend.ai will begin testing its platform with makerspaces and print farms before eventually releasing the final product in 2018.