May 9, 2016 | By Kira

Disney Research and ETH Zurich have once again collaborated to develop a unique 3D printing process with real-world (and really fun) toy-related applications. The software tool, known as DefSense, enables users of all skill levels to design and build flexible 3D printed objects that can sense when they are being bent or deformed. These customizable, 3D printed input devices could then be used as game controllers, electronic musical instruments, or even for 3D character animation.

Thanks to advances in multi-material 3D printing, it is already possible to create flexible, bendable and customizable toys. However, in order to make these toys responsive to physical deformation, advanced programming skills are required. Disney’s goal was to make the process streamlined, error-resistant, and accessible even to novice designers.

They successfully accomplished this using a two-step fabrication process involving 3D printing and a novel optimization-based algorithm. Several test toys were then created, including a 3D printed ‘Armadillo man’ action figure, which demonstrated the possibility of 3D character animation, and a 3D printed musical instrument based on an organ pipe.

"3D-printed objects that can sense their own deformation will open the door to a range of exciting applications, such as personalized toys, custom game controllers and electronic musical instruments," said Markus Gross, vice president at Disney Research. However, added scientists Moritz Bächer, “determining how to route the sensors within the object and how to interpret their readings is a complex design problem in all but the most trivial cases."

The sensors that allow the 3D printed toys to tell when they are bent are known as piezoresistive sensing elements. These wires are imbued with a certain electrical resistivity that changes when bent. By measuring the changes in this resistivity, it is possible to acurately infer the level and type of deformation—that is, whether it is being bent on an angle, twisted, or stretched.

Of course, to achieve this level of precision, the wires require precise placement inside the object or toy, and normally, this would require in-depth technical knowledge. To solve this, Disney created an optimization algorithm that computes sensor layouts based on pre-determined deformations, and guides the user in placing the wires inside the object.

“Our method simultaneously optimizes the internal routing of the sensing elements and computes a mapping from low-level sensor readings to user-specified outputs in order to minimize reconstruction error,” explained the researchers. “Our results indicate that the optimization based design greatly outperforms manual routings in terms of reconstruction accuracy and thus interaction fidelity.

Ideally, Disney Research and ETH Zurich had envisioned the possibility of 3D printing both the toy and piezoresistive polymers, however 3D printable piezoresistive materials with good conductivity and deformation properties currently do not exist on the market.

To correct for this, they resorted to a two stage fabrication process in which the object is 3D printed with built-in grooves. The piezoresistant wires can then be manually positioned and secured with adhesives. “As soon as 3D-printable piezoresistive materials of good quality are available, our method can be used to create 3D sensor routings with little modification,” they said.

As mentioned above, the test objects they created include a 3D printed Armadillo figurine with sensors in each of its limbs. “We envision an artist or even an end-user creating a physical instance of an on-screen character by simply 3D printing it. After fabrication, the custom controller may be used to animate the on-screen character in a very direct and natural fashion.”

A second 3D printed object they created is a custom musical instrument that is designed to be held in one hand and manipulated by the other. The instrument can sense four types of deformation (two bends, a twist, and a pull), allowing users to program specific sounds, tones, or pitches for each. In addition, Disney Research 3D printed a rectangular bar and a sheet with embedded sensors. You can view the process and results in the Advanced Interactive Technologyes (AIT) ETH Zurich video below:

Responsive and interactive objects are key to the future of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), and 3D printed flexible input devices in particular could play a major role in making robotic interactions richer, more natural, and more meaningful.

The research, titled “DefSense: Computational Design of Customized Deformable Input Devices,” was the result of a collaboration between Disney Research, ETH Zurich, McGill University and IST Australia. The research team will be presenting their work at the ACM Conference of on Human Factors in Computing Systems, taking place in California later this month.

In addition to DefSense, Disney Research has developed a range of 3D printing applications that, presumably, are all about getting your kids hooked on the latest movie merch and toys. These include 3D printable walking robots, 3D printed soft-skins for kid-safe robots, and a process for super-fast, support-free resin 3D printing.



Posted in 3D Software



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