Jul 31, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have used 3D printing to create telescopic structures that can bend and twist. Their new technique was used to create collapsible robots shaped like lizards and octopuses.

You’ve probably encountered telescopic structures before, whether in hydraulic equipment, children’s toys, or indeed telescopes. These might seem like disparate items, but one feature is common to them all: straightness.

Telescopic structures have traditionally been made straight as an arrow. Since each section of the structure is designed to fit snugly inside the next, it is simpler to make each section roughly the same shape, rather than incorporate twists and turns.

But researchers at Carnegie Mellon University wanted to shake things up a little, and therefore carried out a study into curved, bendy telescopic structures. Using 3D printing to help them prototype, the team was able to create some weird and wonderful objects.

The tool has thus far been used to design a pop-up tent, as well as telescopic robotic lizards and octopuses.

“Telescoping mechanisms are useful for designing deployable structures,” said Keenan Crane, assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon. “They can collapse down into really small volumes and, when you need them, are easily expanded.”

By creating nested pieces with circular cross sections—similar to a sailor’s spyglass—the Carnegie Mellon researchers were able to make individual curved segments rotate, adding 3D twists to what otherwise would be 2D shapes.

Larger assemblies could then be made by adding connectors and joining several structures together.

Crane enlisted the help of Stelian Coros, assistant professor of robotics; and Christopher Yu, a computer science PhD student, so that he could use additive manufacturing to prototype some of the telescopic structures.

In a researcher paper titled “Computational Design of Telescoping Structures,” Crane explains how the team used “basic consumer-level FDM 3D printing, which already allows for some fairly sophisticated designs,” to make their twisted objects.

The FDM 3D printer was used to make a tent-like shelter, a reconfigurable arm, and several branching joints. The team also designed several concept-only designs that were viewed digitally using simulation software. These designs utilized organic shapes that resembled lizards and other animals.

The researchers believe these telescopic structures could also be brought to life—with the help of better 3D printing equipment. The “smaller relative wall thickness in these models likely demands a more sophisticated fabrication technique than FDM,” they write.

One useful application for these collapsible robots could be search and rescue missions, Crane and his team say. To demonstrate this potential, the researchers built a robotic arm and claw that can extend from a compact cylinder to reach up and over obstacles.

The researchers will present their research paper at the SIGGRAPH Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Los Angeles this week.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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