The smell of epoxy mingles with the aroma of fresh-brewed flavored coffee as Haddington Dynamics' six employees begin their workday.
Two staff members are sitting and talking near a pair of work tables scattered with circuit boards, tools, tiny nuts and bolts and electrical wires jutting from their reels in a variety of colors.
Inventor and company co-founder Kent Gilson is pushing Dexter around, this way and that, using a combination of rigid and swerving motions. He hits a computer key after each movement, demonstrating how to train Dexter by capturing points and paths electronically. Rows of small digits begin to flood across the screen of his smartphone, displaying the code for the series of motions, which can be simultaneously published to the Web and then downloaded by another user who wants Dexter to perform those same motions.
Dexter is a Wi-Fi-enabled, open-sourced robotic arm that the Henderson company unveiled in September at MakerCon and the World Maker Faire in New York City. The five-axis device has a supercomputer-powered brain nestled into a body created with a 3-D printer, so customers with the proper materials and equipment can have Dexter reproduce itself.
It's designed to be a "radically low-cost," easy-to-use tool to aid in a variety of tasks. Its end effector, which is the tip of Dexter's arm, can be modified to suit various jobs, including mico-automation in mass production. Fellow co-founder Richard Fu, president and CEO, said he sees Dexter as benefiting small to mid-sized manufacturers in particular.
It can even be used for personal projects, as well as for assistive technology for the physically handicapped, said co-founder Todd Enerson, the company's chief operating officer.
But unlike robots that are making human workers obsolete at manufacturing plants and other businesses, Dexter is meant to help liberate its users, staff members said.
"There's a big fear of robots — that they will displace people," Gilson said. "That's why we wanted to really empower people to have their own means of production. They don't actually get fired; they quit and become their own producers. It's going to give people the ability to make their own things and upend the hierarchical economic model that we have now. Instead of being consumers, they are the producers of what they consume."
Needless to say, the technology has the potential to dramatically alter the way society operates, said Andrew Boggeri, director of planning and strategy for the company.
"The robots just free people up to find a new place in society that is more in line with their intrinsic interests," Boggeri said.
Haddington Dynamics is a 6-month-old company, but Dexter has been in the works for the past several years by Gilson, Enerson and Fu. The three became friends while living in the Haddington neighborhood of Henderson, which inspired the company's name.
"Andrew (Boggeri) just came on board a few weeks ago," Enerson said.
The company has been drawing attention from manufacturers, academics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and people from Europe and Silicon Valley, Enerson said.
Now that Dexter has been unveiled, Haddington Dynamics plans to spread the word about it, Gilson said.
"Really, the next step is to build the community — the early adopters who can contribute to the evolution of the machine," he said.
Dexter can be purchased in a kit for $1,995. Enerson said it's a bargain compared to what other companies charge.
"Our closest competitors charge $22,000 to $30,000, and they're not open systems," he said.