I spoke with friend about whether he'd be willing to purchase the hardware for himself and I would program it. My payment would be keeping ownership of the software. He thinks it's a good idea.
However he suggested that I get the image recognition software working first before purchasing the robot arm. No unnecessary expense if software is not feasible. I think that's a good idea.
So I'll order a BeagleBone Green and camera module and see what we can do.
Interestingly for me this device is just what I want for my Threesus robot.