Oct 1, 2015 | By Kira

Get read for the lines between reality, animation, and science fiction to get very...soft. Disney Research has created a series of soft robotic limbs that can safely interact with delicate objects and eventually be made into a line of children’s toys that perfectly mimic—in both looks and movement—actual CGI movie characters. The soft skin module prototypes with rigid internal links were designed in SolidWorks and produced using a multi-material Object Eden 260V 3D printer.

While pop culture is rife with lovable robotic characters, such as Wall-E, C3PO, R2D2 and even the Terminator, any robotic toys based on them would be far too dangerous for children to handle. Disney and other companies have been developing robots that could physically interact with humans, either as toys for children, or in healthcare and educational settings, however due to their hard components and lack of integrated sensors, even a small movement of the robot could lead to an injury, from a pinched finger to much worse. “For more physically intimate interactions, such as carrying or hugging, it is imperative that these robots be soft and safe,” said Disney Research. “Our goal is to develop a toy-size robot that can physically interact with children.”

The biologically inspired robotic limbs that they developed are composed of a rubbery outer skin that conceals the hard plastic components inside. When connected to a robotic system, a built-in airtight cavity provides pressure feedback control, allowing the limbs to sense delicate objects, from a plastic cup to a block of tofu, and handle them with care.

In order to combine the soft material of the skin with the rigid servo mount inside, the researchers utilized recent advances in multi-material 3D printing. “If a part is made of a soft material like rubber it is hard to ensure a fixed connection with a rigid body. On the other hand, it is certain that a rigid and unyielding material is inadequate for soft and safe interaction. To achieve these conflicting design requirements, we print the single module using two materials simultaneously.

The model consists of three 3D printed components, which were designed in SolidWorks and printed using VeroWhitePlus (rigid material) and TangoPlus (rubberlike material) on an Object Eden 260V 3D printer. As you can see in the depiction, the dark blue area is made with the rigid material, and the yellow area is flexible.

Though Disney Research still has to improve the technology and eventually build the robot’s body and head, their goal is to use this concept to create a walking biped robot that resembles an animated character—namely, the giant squishy Baymax from last year’s Big Hero 6—and to develop the robot into mascots for their theme parks and a line of toys. It’s one thing to have a toy that looks like your child’s favorite character, but one that can move and physically interact just like they do would surely have them flying off the shelves. Disney says that human interaction-safe robots could also have applications in the medical field and in personal health care, an area that is already being explored in Japan.

Baymax, the soft robot hero from Big Hero 6

These 3D printed soft skin robots are just one of the many ways that Disney is creating the ultimate mash-up between its fictional universe and the real world.  Their theme parks represent self-contained worlds of their own, and films such as Big Hero 6, in which highly advanced technology is not only part of the storyline, but created the onscreen effects, are a true celebration of technological achievement and wink toward the near future. In fact, there’s even a scene in the film where the teenage protagonist uses a 3D printer in his garage to create an outfit for Baymax.  “[There is a] maker movement that’s going on right now,” said Ray Conli, the film’s producer, “These kids are makers. So it’s a little bit the celebration of the nerd.”

The research was published in a paper titled “3D printed soft skin for safe human-robot interaction” authored by Joohyung Kim, Alexander Alspach, and Katsu Yamane.




Posted in 3D Printing Applications





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