Nov. 1, 2015 | By Alec

With a web filled with interesting 3D printable robotic designs, it’s becoming increasingly easier to build yourself a cool little functional robot. However, the vast majority of them are intended to be walkers which – though more challenging – are far more limited in what they can achieve. Though you could of course make a cool RC car (check out the Open R/C project for more), we wanted to draw your attention towards some intriguing designs over at Hackaday that all share the same principle: to navigate through just about any terrain with the help of 3D printed tracks. And if you’re looking for a functional moving robot, what could be better than tracks?

Now as you may or may not know, tracks have been around for a very long time. Though only entering public knowledge as a result of tanks in world wars one and two, continuous track drive systems (tank threads) have been around since the 1770s as the most versatile way to navigate uneven terrain. Though not exactly easy to 3D print, as you need dozens of separate parts flexibly moving in constant unison, three designers have recently been working on ingenious solutions that could be just what you need.

Modular Continuous Track System

Just take a look at the fantastic Modular Continuous Track System by Jupdyke, a mechanical engineer from Pittsburgh. Over the past few months he has been experimenting with a series of 3D printed tracks that are tremendously durable. Starting off with a series of excellent 3D printed parts, he has since gone through half a dozen or so iterations, before settling on a system with 70A urethane rubber parts and metal parts.

Modular Continuous Track System

As he explains, a solely 3D printed set of links were not providing the results he was looking for. ‘The tolerances of the 3D printer were not as tight as chain, and the plastic parts had too much flex. It was time to order some chain and upgrade. I ordered some #20, #35, and #40 chain on amazon. When it arrived I was surprised by how tiny the #20 chain was. This is another drawback of 3d modeling. You can get a feel for the scale of things in relation to each other, but not in relation to the world. I was working with parametric parts that scale from tiny to huge,’ Jupdyke says. However, he has since been very successful with these rubber cast track/steel pin combination.

The results look absolutely perfect for a 3D printed robotic construction, and if you’re interested, Jupdyke has started selling them through a little website. While not cheap at $40 a foot or $2.50 per tread (with custom colors available), they are certainly a good option for those considering a tank-like build. You can find the webshop here.

Expandable Ruggedized Robotic Platform

Even more impressive, though doubtlessly much more costly to make, is the Expandable Ruggedized Robotic Platform: a monstrous metal tank that can definitely survive any rugged environment. Developed by an Electrical Engineering Undergraduate going by the name of William42, it’s an inspiring creation that would’ve been the perfect toy when I was a kid. Just about everything is made of metal, with the body being a plate-covered the frame is 8020 aluminum extrusion. ‘Tracks provide superior traction and ground pressure while FRC Mini-CIM motors provide 700 in-lb of torque, sufficient to move the robot over rough terrain and carry significant payloads,’ William says, and we believe him.

Expandable Ruggedized Robotic Platform

But again, the tracks were challenging, as it needs to be powerful to carry the heavy system around. In the end, William chose the smart option of treads made from delrin, originally created as industrial conveyor belts. With series of 3D printed adaptors and a 1/2 Hex shaft and off-the-shelf FRC wheel hubs, this cool contraption is powered onwards.

But perhaps the most inspiring thread-based robot is the almost completely 3D printed TTBN Alpha, that is actually a TelePresence robot, says designer TinHead from Bucharest, Romania. As he explains on Hackaday, the TTBN Alpha is a remote presence tracked platform that was built to demonstrate different ways of using embedded platforms, and to test the designer’s own lightweight Linux distribution with buildroot. But with the help of 3D printed tracks and a Logitech C110 mounted webcam, the TTBN Alpha can keep an eye out (spy) at great distances.

TTBN Alpha

‘It is powered by a Raspberry model B, running a custom built Linux distribution. The web interface is written in Python using the Tornado framework, and websockets for (almost) realtime control.Video is captured from the webcam and it is displayed realtime in the web interface in order to allow FPS style control of the tank,’ TinHead says. The tracks themselves are perhaps the most impressive of all three, as they are completely 3D printed, aside from a couple of straightened paperclips that function as pins. Two servos serve as drive motors on the TTBN Alpha.

Like the Modular Continuous Track System and the Expandable Ruggedized Robotic Platform, the TTBN Alpha is a mouthwatering creation that will make the hands of any maker start itching. While none of the 3D printed files are currently freely accessible, all three projects suggest that there’s still plenty of work to do for the roboticists looking for a challenge. Be sure to check them out!



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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