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This $500 plug-and-play robot arm is designed to be a desktop friend for DIY engineers

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It’s raised more than $300,000 on Indiegogo

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What’s your desktop setup like — dual monitors, maybe? A good sound system, and some sort of ergonomic wrist rest? That sounds okay I guess, but you know what would really kick things up a notch? A programmable robot arm that can pass you drinks and high-five you every morning. Really, who even needs friends.

The arm in question is the uArm Swift from uFactory, and it’s currently raising funds on Indiegogo, attracting more than $300,000 so far. It comes in two flavors, standard and pro, and is open source and programmable; perfect for DIY tinkerers. It can be controlled manually via mobile or desktop software, or programmed for specific task, like using face recognition to point a fan at you at all times.

“Yes, robot arm, fan me. Fan me good.”

The uArm Swift Pro is currently available for $489 with an RRP of $842, and is precise enough to handle tasks like drawing and laser engraving. It has a stepper motor and repeatability of 0.2mm (that’s the degree of accuracy when performing the same task over and over). The standard uArm Swift, by comparison, has a less powerful motor and is less precise, with a repeatability of 5mm. It’s available from $289, with an RRP of $489.

Both arms can be customized for a range of tasks, from the silly to the sort-of practical. They can be hooked up to a Leap motion sensor for gesture control, or directed using simple, block-based programming software. Different effectors fit on to the end of the arms, and include a suction cup and gripper.

As ever, you have to be cautious about crowdfunding campaigns like this that are asking for your money to fund its production, not buy a finished product. In this case, though, uFactory has a proven track record. Its previous robot arm, a metal version that came out in 2014, got some good reactions as basically a capable, programmable toy. The Swift looks like it improves on this formula. Both models should be shipping out May this year.