May 31, 2017 | By Benedict

Tech wizards at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute have developed an interactive design tool that allows roboticists of any ability to build customized legged or wheeled robots using 3D printed components and off-the-shelf actuators.

It’s a pretty well-known fact that “build a robot” is on everyone’s bucket list. From C-3PO to theT-800, robots have proven themselves as both loyal friends and handy pieces of hardware. Given the evidence, why wouldn’t you want one?

Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to build a robot. Even since the dawn of consumer 3D printing, the task of putting together a functional bot has proven too tricky for all but the most competent of roboticists.

That’s why Carnegie Mellon researchers have developed an interactive design tool that lets users, novice or expert, design their own customized robots that can be built with 3D printed parts and off-the-shelf components.

Users are presented with a simple drag-and-drop interface on which they can choose from a library of robotic components. The tool suggests components that are compatible with each other, points out where actuators should go, and can automatically generate 3D printable structural components to connect those actuators.

The tool even provides a simulation environment to test the robot before building it, so users can see exactly how their robot will move and function in the physical world.

“The process of creating new robotic systems today is notoriously challenging, time-consuming, and resource-intensive," said Stelian Coros, assistant professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon. "In the not-so-distant future, however, robots will be part of the fabric of daily life and more people—not just roboticists—will want to customize robots. This type of interactive design tool would make this possible for just about anybody.”

Coros and his team tried building a number of different robots, both walking and wheeling ones, using the tool. One, a wheeled robot with a manipulator arm, was able to hold a pen for drawing; another, which resembled a four-legged puppy, could walk forwards or sideways.

“The system makes it easy to experiment with different body proportions and motor configurations, and see how these decisions affect the robot's ability to do certain tasks,” said robotics PhD student Ruta Desai, another researcher on the project.

“For instance, we discovered in simulation that some of our preliminary designs for the puppy enabled it to only walk forward, not sideways. We corrected that for the final design. The motions of the robot we actually built matched the desired motion we demonstrated in simulation very well.”

The iterative design tool even includes an “auto-completion” feature that automatically generates assemblies of components by searching through possible arrangements. This means that novice users can simply arrange a few preferred elements on-screen before letting the application do the hard work.

“Our work aims to make robotics more accessible to casual users,” Coros said. “This is important because people who play an active role in creating robotic devices for their own use are more likely to have positive feelings and higher quality interactions with them. This could accelerate the adoption of robots in everyday life.”

Desai yesterday presented a report on the design tool at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2017) in Singapore. Desai and Coros worked on the project together with master's student Ye Yuan.

Coros is no stranger to this kind of robot-building design tool. Back in 2015, the assistant professor was involved with this Disney Research robotic design application.

Two weeks ago, engineers at the University of California San Diego made a 3D printed soft robot that can walk on rough surfaces such as sand.



Posted in 3D Design



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Scott wrote at 6/1/2017 4:22:40 AM:

This is fantastic, but you left out some important information... when will it be available to the public?

Bryan D. wrote at 5/31/2017 10:02:31 PM:

there's a similar program out of Worcester, MA called bowler studio that is open-sourced and includes parametric modelling and a fully intergrated physics engine to fully render and animate the creation on screen and control a physical counterpart connected through it. it will also produce .stl files or .svgs to either 3D print or laser cut the structures.

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