Printable Robots: MIT Project Wants to Let You Design and Fabricate Your Own Machines
Funded by a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the projectaims to reinvent how robots are designed and produced by developing technology to allow an average person to create programmable robots in a matter of hours.
"This research envisions a whole new way of thinking about the design and manufacturing of robots, and could have a profound impact on society," MIT professor Daniela Rus, leader of the project, said in a statement, adding that the project could help to "democratize access to robots."
The researchers believe that it currently takes too much time and effort to produce and program a robot, and that people are constantly reinventing the wheel. Their goal is to develop software tools and fabrication devices to allow people to rapidly design, customize, and "print" a full robot.
As an analogy, Rus explains that just as a compiler transforms source code into a fully functional application, the researchers want to create a "compiler for building physical machines" that takes a set of specifications and fabricates a programmable robot using simple printing processes and materials.
The researchers are just starting to explore how to accomplish that. They're currently developing an easy-to-use programming environment and testing new materials that would allow for automated fabrication of robot parts. Using these methods, the team has already built a few prototypes, including an insect-like robot, a self-contained soft robotic fish, and a small mechanical gripper.
Cagdas Onal, an MIT postdoc, explains that they're using a material called PEEK, or polyether ether ketone, which he says has "good dimensional stability, laser machining properties, and thermal characteristics."
To print the robots, the researchers are using a variety of custom planar fabrication techniques. "The robot bodies are fabricated by laser machining, and their custom flexible circuits are fabricated using regular printers and etching," Onal says. "We use planar molds to create our soft robots from silicone rubber."
The researchers are already able to place metal wiring on the body of the robots before they are folded. In the future, their goal is to incorporate all electronics -- chips, sensors, power sources -- into the printing process.
Also involved in the project are researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University.
source : #mit