How to Build a Robot That Picks Up Things

By Steve Aycock ; Updated April 12, 2017
Robots can be designed and programmed to pick up a variety of objects.

Robots are systems that include mechanical, electrical and software aspects. To build a robot to pick up things, you will need to consider each of these aspects and select or build components according to your requirements. Picking up known objects in a fixed environment, such as a factory, is an easier task than picking up objects in an unstructured environment.

List end-effector requirements. An end-effector is the part of a robot that manipulates objects, such as the gripper or “hand” of the robot. The physical characteristics of the objects that you expect the robot to pick up will guide the selection or design of an end-effector. Consider object characteristics such as weight, shape and fragility.

Design a robot base. For a stationary robot, the base is a framework or platform for an arm or other appendage to operate from. For a mobile robot, the base can be attached to a drive mechanism for movement, such as a chassis with motorized wheels. The base will need to be of sufficient size to handle the objects your robot will be manipulating. The end-effector requirements can be used to guide the base design.

Assemble the base. The base can include a framework made of metal, plastic or wood. For a mobile robot, you will need to assemble a drive train and attach the base to the drive train.

Select an end-effector type and configuration. Use your requirements list to select or design an end-effector to meet the requirements. There are many types of end-effectors, such as gripping, vacuum and magnetic. End-effectors are also available in a variety of sizes to accommodate objects of different size.

Connect the end-effector to the robot base. The end-effector can be coupled to the end of the robot’s arm or directly to the body of the robot, depending on the application. You will need a physical connection to the robot to mount the end-effector and control line connections to the robot base.

Add sensors. Your robot may need sensors to help it pick things up. For example, if your robot will be picking up fragile items, you may need force sensors in the end-effector to measure the force being applied. Also, if your robot needs to find the objects to pick up, you may need a video sensor or other type of sensor to help the robot locate objects.

Attach a computer to the robot. Your robot will need a computer to control the end-effector and, for a mobile robot, the drive mechanism. The control computer for a robot is typically a microcontroller system or a single-board computer. The control computer also receives signals from sensors and can react to the received signals.

Program the computer to control the robot. You will need to write software for your computer that will control the robot and end-effector so that the robot can pick things up. The software may also need to process signals from any sensors that are attached to your robot.

Test the robot. Create a test environment for your robot in which you can carefully control and observe the robot attempting to pick up objects. Place the robot in the test environment and attempt to have the robot pick up things. Observe the robot and make any corrections needed in the end-effector, robot body or the software controlling the robot.

Things Needed

  • Metal, plastic or wood for the robot frame
  • Drive train (for a mobile robot)
  • End-effector
  • Sensors
  • Control computer
  • Connection wire

About the Author

Steve Aycock has a background in engineering and law. Writing since 2002, Aycock has been published in "IPLaw360" and BNA's "Patent, Trademark and Copyright Journal." Aycock earned a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering from the University of South Florida and a Juris Doctor from The George Washington University.