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What is a Cartesian Robot?

D. Messmer
D. Messmer

A cartesian robot, also known as a cartesian coordinate robot, is a common type of industrial robot. It has three "arms" that each function along linear axes of control. Each of these axes is at a right angle to the other two. A common application for the cartesian robot is a computer numerical control (CNC) machine, and it can have a multitude of uses, especially as either a milling or drawing machine.

The basic form of a cartesian robot consists of three "arms." Each arm can move only along a two dimensional axis — it can only move backward or forwards or, if the arm is vertical, up or down. Each arm is at a right angle to the other two, though, which allows the robot to utilize the motions of all three arms to reach various points in a three-dimensional space. These arms can vary tremendously in size, depending on the purpose of the robot. In some particularly large designs, the horizontal arm will have support on both ends. This is called a gantry robot.

Cartesian robots are controlled by CNC operators in the same way many other CNC machines are programmed.
Cartesian robots are controlled by CNC operators in the same way many other CNC machines are programmed.

The primary advantage that the cartesian robot has over other types of industrial robots is that all three of its axes of control are linear rather than rotational. Having a linear axis of control is an advantage because it greatly simplifies the robot's arm solution. In order to program a robot for a specific task, the programmer must be able to program the robot to move along its axes of control to reach the various desired positions. Determining this arm solution requires calculations to determine the desired positions relative to the robot's axes of control. Linear calculations are far easier to calculate, because the programmer can perform these calculations in a closed form using basic trigonometric principles.

As a result of the cartesian robot's ability to reach different points in a three-dimensional space with relative ease, its most common application is as a CNC machine. CNC machines use computer programs to extract the necessary commands to cause the robot to function in the desired manner and then to load these commands into the robot. They enable the robot to move very precisely and thus make cartesian robots suitable for different drawing and drafting functions. When a cartesian robot is used in this manner, a tool can be lowered onto or raised off of a surface while moving along the X and Y planes to create a specific design.

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Discussion Comments


This is a fantastic example of applied robotics. When we think of robots many of us think of the terminator or Alice the maid from the Jetsons. This is to say that we think of human forms that conduct largely human functions. But the truth is that most robots look nothing like humans, they don't look biological at all, and many of them carry out functions that could never be completed by a human.

Cartesian robots are capable of a speed and precision that a human could never approximate. They are also used in tasks that are tedious and labor intensive. This is the goal of applied robotics, to pass along to machine jobs that humans are averse or unskilled at. The goal is not to replace humans with robots but to improve the efficiency and existing human processes. It is a fascinating field that will be relevant for many years to come.


My parents owned a small business that made commercial cabinetry and they had a large CNC machine. I was absolutely fascinated by it as a kid.

As far as I know the machine employed the Cartesian robots described in this article. Its had a variety of arms that could travel across the surface of a board or a 3 dimensional form. It was amazing by how fast it could work. In just a matter of seconds it could make dozens of ultra precise cuts and drills.

I know that when my parents got it they were able to increase production significantly. The machine automated what was previously a very time and labor intensive process. It was expensive, but in the long run completely worth it

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    • Cartesian robots are controlled by CNC operators in the same way many other CNC machines are programmed.
      By: uwimages
      Cartesian robots are controlled by CNC operators in the same way many other CNC machines are programmed.