Mar 13, 2018 | By Benedict

Researchers at South Korea's Jeju National University have carried out research into the viability of 3D printed soft robots. The study suggests that obstacles need to be overcome before 3D printing is fully capable of making soft robots at scale.

The potential of 3D printed soft robots is a much-discussed area of technology in 2018. Just last week, in fact, we wrote about how engineers at Oregon State University are using a gallium alloy to 3D print flexible computer screens and other stretchable electronic devices; those engineers also made the rather dramatic prediction that the alloy could make 3D printed soft robots that “walk out of the printer.”

But is that realistic? And is 3D printing a viable option for any kind of mass-scale soft robotics production? Researchers at Jeju National University in South Korea wanted to get some answers to these questions, and recently published a study called “3D printing for soft robotics – a review” in Science and Technology of Advanced Materials.

The Korean researchers describe soft robots as the “next generation of robots which are elastically soft and capable of safely cooperating with humans or steering through constrained environments.”

“Just as a mouse or octopus can squeeze through a small hole,” they say, “a soft robot must be elastically deformable and capable of steering through narrowed spaces without inducing damaging internal pressures and stress concentrations.”

While the new study suggests that 3D printing is well suited to build robots that have complex external shapes, it points out that there are major gaps and obstacles that must be addressed and tackled in order to facilitate the 3D printing of robots with multiple materials that adhere to each other.

The Jeju National University researchers discuss various applications for 3D printed soft robots, including medical devices such as multi-finger soft robotic hands that can lift, grip, spin, and precisely position objects, and even soft silicone pumps that can be used as an artificial heart.

Obstacles to the adequate development of 3D printed soft robotics include material shrinkage during the solidification process and the slowness of the additive manufacturing process.

“Coupling complicated porous 3D design with AM techniques can create a range of soft robots with bone and muscles from various materials,” the researchers conclude. “For soft robots, control over mechanical behavior while retaining the designed structure is very important.”

They add that the commercial success of 3D printed soft robots depends on “new innovation” in soft lithography, 3D printing, and other rapid prototyping technologies.

Authors of the study included Jahan Zeb Gul, Memoon Sajid, Muhammad Muqeet Rehman, Ghayas Uddin Siddiqui, Imran Shah, Kyung-Hwan Kim, Jae-Wook Lee, and Kyung Hyun Choi.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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