Can Open Source Hardware Movement Be Used To Realize Low Cost Educational Robots?

SK Gupta | Pursuit of Unorthodox Ideas | April 5, 2013

Robots are expensive! A simple robot arm costs more than ten thousand dollars. On the other hand, a state-of-the-art dish washer costs less than a thousand dollars. These two are not significantly different in terms of size or complexity, so what is the reason for such a large difference in their prices?

Most robots today get produced in relatively low volumes while popular dish washer models get produced in high volumes. This means they use different manufacturing approaches. Amortized setup and tooling costs are much lower in high volume production. High volume production lines use a high level of automation so human labor costs are reduced. Inventory costs are also much lower for products that sell in high volumes. Finally, amortized research and development costs are much lower for products that sell in high volumes. All of these factors combined together lead to higher sticker price for robots that are produced in low volumes. For obvious reasons, robots with high sales volume are relatively inexpensive (e.g., iRobot Roomba and Lego Mindstorms).

I am particularly concerned about high costs for educational robots.  Robots have emerged as wonderful teaching tools, and we ought to be using sophisticated robots in our classrooms. Unfortunately, most schools cannot afford them at current prices since we need robots that cost less than one thousand dollars.[...]