Motus Labs’ ML1000 series drives feature the company’s gearless M-DRIVE design. | Credit: Motus Labs
Motus Labs, a Dallas-based startup that exited stealth mode in December 2018, today commercially launched its ML1000 series of gear drives. Featuring its patented gearless M-DRIVE design, Motus Labs said the ML1000 series can improve robot performance and reduce costs for both robotics manufacturers and users.
The ML1000 series has five precision drive models. Check out the comparison chart below to see the specs of each model. The ML1000-17 is currently available, while the ML1000-20, 25, 32, will be available in late September, and the ML1000-40 will be available in the fourth quarter of 2020.
The key to the M-DRIVE’s architecture is that it uses mating blocks instead of traditional gear teeth. Motus Labs co-founder and CEO Joe Pollard told The Robot Report the low-friction mating surfaces act like “cleated shoes running” on the inside of a cylinder. Motus claims this increases the contact area, which results in more torque for given weight and lower weight for given torque, creating rigidity and stable control over the robot.
While the basic motion of the M-DRIVE has remained the same from the preliminary design in 2018 until now, the composition has changed. The drive initially was all aluminum, but Pollard said Motus wasn’t getting the performance it wanted. So now the M-DRIVE is a hybrid device that features aluminum, plastic and steel parts.
“The M-DRIVE architecture aims to address three objectives,” said Carlos Hoefken, inventor of the M-DRIVE and Motus Labs co-founder. “First, increase precision and drive performance and lower overall robot solution costs. Second, be an enabling technology for new applications in adaptive robotics. Finally, continue our innovative approach and bring to market smart robot components as the industry shifts from traditional automation to smart manufacturing.”
The patented design of M-DRIVE uses cam-driven blocks that engage over 80% of the output ring surface area, which Pollard said is more than the 10 -15% of traditional drives. The series offers zero backlash and up to two times torque density.
Motus said the increased torque density can lead to a reduction of the size and weight of the gear drive at every joint of a robot. Motus claims this can reduce the inertia of arm links, which potentially allows robot arm manufacturers to reduce the size of the motors used.
“Motus eliminates the need to buy unneeded torque,” said Pollard. “Everyone’s concerned about price and footprint. Users want a smaller footprint, but they still want to have the performance capability. We can improve the cost of a robot by 50%.”
Motus said the ML1000 series also offers up to two times the torsional stiffness of other products, which leads to less droop and higher repeatability. Motus claims its drives can increase a robot arm’s speed and reach by 15-20%.
Motus also claims the M-DRIVE operates at a cooler temperature. According to Pollard, this eliminates the need to “over-spec drive motors to manage excess heat.”
“Because it’s an efficient product, it doesn’t operate at a high heat and give off heat, which can be a problem,” said Pollard. ”
ML1000 Series Specifications
|Rated torque||45 Nm||97 Nm||178 Nm||345 Nm||523 Nm|
|Repeated peak torque||90 Nm||174 Nm||356 Nm||690 Nm||1046 Nm|
|Momentary peak torque||180 Nm||348 Nm||712 Nm||1380 Nm||2092 Nm|
|Mass||770 g||1400 g||2100 g||4500 g||7700 g|
Motus Labs gearing up
Motus, which has raised $4.5 million in funding, is targeting many types of robots for the ML1000 series. Pollard said the service and collaborative robotics markets have seen impressive growth, but industrial robotics is a big legacy market that will also need upgrades.
“They don’t want to eliminate a specific model, they want to upgrade and eliminate cost and weight,” Pollard said about industrial robotics makers. “The use cases are well defined, and the software has already been written. We need to drive shorter-term opportunities – service and collaborative robots – and marry that success in the industrial space to get big wins, where the quantities a customer will purchase are much higher.”
Motus has had discussions with the top 9 industrial robotics makers worldwide. After getting feedback on the preliminary design in 2019, Pollard said Motus is ready to take its technology to market. Pollard said Motus makes the initial models of each drive at its facility, then the rest are made by a contract manufacturer near Dallas. The drives could also be made in Asia and Europe, and Motus has discussed licensing agreements with companies.
“New product cycles could take a year and a half,” Pollard said. “We build a drive and run it through tests. Then potential customers run their own tests and put the drives in prototypes. They then take the prototype to a customer for a period of time and put it into a use case.
“Robotics manufacturers want to buy gear drives for the entire arm, not something in the elbow from one company and another company’s product in the shoulder. So they’ll entertain us on a model. If we do well, we can propagate across the models of robot arms.”