Aug 7, 2017 | By David

A remarkable new robotics project being led by a number of major universities is bypassing 3D printing technology and even good old 2D printing, building robots through a process referred to as ‘1D printing’. The team, comprised of researchers from MIT, Columbia, Cornell, and ITU Copenhagen, has produced a robot that can bend aluminium wire into specific shapes to create new robots, which can then be powered by basic motors to achieve specific tasks.

This innovative new approach to robotics was developed as a way to straightforwardly build new robots with a variety of different functions at a low cost, rivalling even the potential of 3D printing on this front. The wire, which has embedded motors pre-attatched, is fed into the ‘1D printer’. The mechanism of this printer allows body segments for the robot to be transported through the machine on to the wire, and the print head can open or close depending on whether it needs to accommodate the body parts or grip the wire to bend it in a particular direction.

Differently shaped robots are capable of moving in different ways, rolling along a floor or climbing up a pipe, for example, depending on what task they are needed to carry out. The fact that they are constructed so simply means that they are also incredibly easy to recycle, as the wire just needs to be straightened out again and it can be re-used for an entirely new robot. This latter aspect means that the 1D printed robots, like 3D printed ones, have high potential for use in particular limited-resource situations, such as space exploration.

"The robots are all made of the same source material’’ says Sebastian Risi, an Associate Professor at ITU Copehagen. ‘’This would be practical for instance on a Mars mission where you might first need a robot that can climb, and later need a robot arm that can grab an object. The robot printer can also be used in situations where you do not know in advance what type of robot you will need, for example in connection with disaster recovery."

Testing of the 1D printed robot project hasn’t yet been carried out outside of a laboratory, but Risi and his fellow researchers hope to develop the technology further, so it can eventually be used in more complex real-world scenarios, perhaps even supplanting 3D printing technology in some areas. They are planning to add sensors and a camera to the robots to expand the range of applications for their robots, as well as finding a better material than aluminium. While it has proved effective so far, a more stable material would be necessary to cope with the repeated bending without it deforming.

According to Risi, this cutting-edge robotics technology actually draws its inspiration from the fundamental building blocks of nature: "The way in which it folds one-dimensional material into complex 3D formations is inspired by the ribosome, which is the machinery in all biological cells responsible for protein synthesis. The ribosome enables the construction of the countless number of chemicals that form the basis of all cells through the assembly of amino acids. In a similar way, the robot printer uses a one-dimensional material that can be reused to build a variety of different and specialized robots,"

Another important and very real biological phenomenon, evolution, influenced the design of the 1D printing algorithm, says Risi: "To find the optimal way to bend robot material, the computer simulates an evolutionary process where it tests a lot of different shapes and then finds the best shape to perform a particular task. One simply tells the printer to make a robot that rolls forward, then it finds the best design itself, without any human telling it how to do it."

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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