Aug 23, 2017 | By David

3D printing technology is making the world of robotics more and more accessible, due to its flexibility and increasingly fast production times. The initial design phase, however, is still something that can be a complex challenge to people without the expertise. A group of researchers from MIT is now attempting to simplify this whole process, hopefully allowing casual users to 3D print their own robot from scratch in a relatively short amount of time. Their system is based on a craft that has a significantly longer history than 3D printing - the ancient Japanese art of origami.

The system, which was designed by researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), is known as ‘'Interactive Robogami’'. Its use of origami concepts is intended to enable a more straightforward, intuitive design process than that offered by many current virtual design tools, and the traditional paper-folding method is actually put into practice as the last stage of construction. The design for the robot is 3D printed as flat 2D faces, connected by joints in such a way that they can then be folded to assemble the final 3D shape of the robot.

The system was outlined in a paper published in the new issue of the International Journal of Robotics Research. The research project was co-led by PhD graduate Cynthia Sung alongside MIT professors Wojciech Matusik and Daniela Rus. Other co-authors include PhD student Andrew Spielberg, former master's student Wei Zhao, former undergraduate Robin Cheng, and Columbia University professor Eitan Grinspun. (Sung is now an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.)

"3D printing lets you print complex, rigid structures, while 2D fabrication gives you lightweight but strong structures that can be produced quickly," Sung says. "By 3D-printing 2D patterns, we can leverage these advantages to develop strong, complex designs with lightweight materials."

A key feature of the system is that it gives designers the option to determine both the robot's movement ("gait") and shape ("geometry"), two aspects that are often separated in other design systems. The ‘’Interactive Robogami’’ system allows a user to design a robot in a matter of minutes, while the 3D printing process can take as little as 4 hours. The software’s use of simulations and interactive feedback with algorithms means that users don’t need to be concerned with the more complicated and intricate mechanical features of the robot. It can analyze factors like speed and stability to provide suggestions during the design process, and this guarantees that the robot will actually work.

This allows the user to focus on the overall design at a conceptual level. They can choose from a library of over 50 different bodies, wheels, legs and "peripherals," as well as a selection of different steps ("gaits"). Initial tests of the ''Interactive Robogami'' system involved eight subjects being given twenty minutes of training and then being asked to perform two tasks. One task involved creating a mobile, stable car design in just ten minutes. In a second task, users were given a robot design and asked to create a trajectory to navigate the robot through an obstacle course in the least amount of travel time.

A total of six robots were fabricated in testing, each of which took 10 to 15 minutes to design, 3 to 7 hours to print and 30 to 90 minutes to assemble. The team found that their 3D print-and-fold method reduced printing time by 73 percent and the amount of material used by 70 percent. A wide range of different movements were achieved.

The current version of ''Interactive Robogami'' is primarily focused on designs that can walk, but the team is hoping that in the future, it can be used for robots that can take flight. "These tools enable new approaches to teaching computational thinking and creating," says Rus. "Students can not only learn by coding and making their own robots, but by bringing to life conceptual ideas about what their robots can actually do."



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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