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MIT-Led Team Aims to Make ‘Printable Robots’ Widely Available
A team of researchers has embarked on a five-year project to develop 3D printing technology for designing and producing functional robots on the cheap.
How cool would it be to assemble your own R2D2 using just a desktop PC and a 3D printer? Okay, that’s probably not going to happen soon, but in the meantime, would you settle for an origami bug robot that can inch its way across a tabletop, like the one in the Wired video below?
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other institutions are embarking on a project to fast-track the production of robots by means of current 3D printing technology, announcing this week a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the development of new technology that would “make it possible for the average person to design, customize and print a specialized robot in a matter of hours,” according to MIT News.
The five-year project is called “An Expedition in Computing for Compiling Printable Programmable Machines.” The team of researchers from MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard plan to build upon current 3D printing tech, which enables the milling of 3D plastic models from a digital file. The technology, sometimes called additive manufacturing, utilizes computer aided design (CAD) programming and increasingly affordable 3D printers to produce models out of plastic and other materialslike an insect-like robot (below) that the team designed and printed to showcase their new process.
“Our goal is to develop technology that enables anyone to manufacture their own customized robot. This is truly a game-changer,” said Vijay Kumar, a professor leading the U Penn research team, according to MIT News. “It could allow for the rapid design and manufacture of customized goods, and change the way we teach science and technology in high schools.”
The project also aims to further robotics by making robot design tools available to a much broader population and thus throw a lot more brainpower at developing the science.
“This research envisions a whole new way of thinking about the design and manufacturing of robots, and could have a profound impact on society,” said project leader Daniela Rus of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “We believe that it has the potential to transform manufacturing and to democratize access to robots.”
Currently, it can take years to bring a functioning robot from the design stage through to its manufacture, according to the researchers. The process is expensiveoften prohibitively so for the amateur roboticists the project was launched to assist. With a streamlined 3D printing process available, the team thinks an average robot hobbyist could design and build a functional robot in as little as 24 hours.
“Our vision is to develop an end-to-end processspecifically, a compiler for building physical machines that starts with a high level of specification of function, and delivers a programmable machine for that function using simple printing processes,” Rus told MIT News.
By Damon Poeter, PCMag