How cool would it be if you could use a 3D printer to print your very own robotic assistant? One that would only need a battery and a motor to be ready to go.
But this scenario doesn’t have to happen only in your imagination, as researchers at MIT have made it possible with the new 3D printing technique they’ve developed.
When it comes to 3D printing, liquids have long been a challenge, and they’re a necessary element when it comes to creating hydraulic devices that move, like robots.
But thanks to researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), the world has seen on Wednesday the first-ever technique for 3D printing robots that can print both solid and liquid materials.
What they created is the possibility to print flexible robots that can move in one single step, with a 3D printer that’s already commercially available. CSAIL Director Daniela Rus called their approach ‘printable hydraulics,’ which advances the rapid fabrication of functional machines.
Rus is the supervisor on the project and the co-author of the paper that describes the results. In her own words, the new technique can make a robot “practically walk right out of the printer.” Stick in a motor and a battery and you’re good to go.
Their paper is scheduled to be presented in May at the 2016 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) that takes place in Sweden.
Prior to their discovery, printing liquids was something that required additional post-printing steps, which caused an unsolvable problem in including the liquid step in factory-scale manufacturing.
But with the new technique, the inkjet printer stores individual droplets of microscopic material – the diameter is less than half the width of a human hair. Different materials are deposited layer by layer by the printing machine, followed by high-intensity UV light that solidifies the non-liquid portions.
MIT postdoc Robert MacCurdy, a co-author on the project, demonstrated the concept by printing a six-legged robot that crawls by using 12 hydraulic pumps. At 1.5 pounds and less than 6 inches, the robot doesn’t need any assembly: every element is printed in a single step.
Researchers are confident that other multi-material 3D printers already on the shelves could use this technique with just a few modifications.
Customizable design template is also possible, and the MIT team thinks that, in the future, the system will need little to no human input to make the desired changes.
Image Source: Inverse