Apr.4, 2012

Printable Origami Insect

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is leading an ambitious new project to reinvent how robots are designed and produced, in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. The five-year project, called "An Expedition in Computing for Compiling Printable Programmable Machines," is funded by a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Currently, to program, design and produce a functioning robot is an extremely expensive process and takes years to develop software and hardware. This new project from MIT will aim to develop a desktop technology to automate that process that would make it possible for the average person to design, customize and print a specialized robot in a matter of hours.

This will be a game changer. In their scenario, an individual would use their platform to identify a household problem that needs assistance; then he could head to a local printing store to select an appropriate robot design from a library of robotic designs; and then make customized robot to solve the problem. So within a day, a robot would be printed, assembled, fully programmed and ready for the service.

"Our vision is to develop an end-to-end process; specifically, 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," said MIT Professor Daniela Rus, leader of the project and a principal investigator at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL).

Printable Origami Gripper

The implications of this project will be for a variety of fields. "This project aims to dramatically reduce the development time for a variety of useful robots, opening the doors to potential applications in manufacturing, education, personalized healthcare, and even disaster relief," said Rob Wood, an associate professor at Harvard University.

Currently, project researchers are focusing their research in several areas: developing an application programming interface for simple function specification and design, writing algorithms that would allow for control of the assembly of a device and its operations, creating an easy-to-use programming language environment, and designing new, programmable materials that would allow for automatic fabrication of robots.

The researchers have prototyped two machines for designing, printing and programming, including an insect-like robot that could be used for exploring a contaminated area and a gripper that could be used by people with limited mobility, all made from a thermoplastic known as PEEK.

How much impact could this project have on the general public? Just imagine, everyone can 3D print little robots at home...and it is happening.

Photo By Jason Dorfman, CSAIL/MIT

Via MIT & IEEE Spectrum

Posted in Printing Technology



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