Jul 30, 2016 | By Benedict

Designer Michael Roybal has created “Zizzy,” a 3D printed personal robot designed to help those with limited mobility. The robot, which took a full year to develop, uses 3D printable pneumatic muscles made from Ninjaflex filament, and can move objects using 3D printed grippers.

3D printing, that most versatile of manufacturing arts, has already been used in a few different ways to help those with limited mobility. From 3D printed prostheses to 3D printed wheelchairs, the flexibility and print-on-demand nature of additive manufacturing has made it an invaluable asset for accessibility applications. And while developing effective and affordable prosthetics and wheelchairs is perhaps the most important goal for benevolent makers, designer Michael Roybal has been developing something altogether different, but something which could nonetheless offer similar advantages to the disabled, elderly, or sick. His new 3D printed creation is Zizzy, a “personal robot prototype for people with limited mobility,” which makers can attempt to build via an Instructables guide.

Designed to move freely on a smooth desktop or table, Zizzy is a robot capable of many things: talking, showing “emotions,” and manipulating objects such as food, water, and mobile phones with a pair of grippers. Furthermore, the 3D printed robot can operate in two different modes, either in pre-programmed sequences or via real-time remote control. Although Roybal admits that the robot is not yet the finished article, he sees huge potential in its pneumatic muscle movements and modular construction.

Zizzy can’t (yet) walk to the shops for you and pick up your groceries, but it can perform some pretty useful tabletop tasks. For example, Zizzy’s two 3D printed arms can be programmed or instructed to pick up objects and move them towards the user, while the robot’s voice function enables a user to communicate through it. Its “face” even acts as a kind of live emoticon, displaying different expressions according to the user’s wishes. Conveniently, Roybal has also made Zizzy compatible with a standard universal remote control. With a bit of modification, the robot could therefore interface with a wheelchair, puff-and-blow, or other kind of controller.

While Zizzy might look like your average 3D printed ‘bot, it actually poses some particularly important advantages over similar designs. Those advantages come from both the design of the machine and the 3D printing material used to make it: while most of Zizzy’s body is made from standard PLA, its air-powered artificial muscles (gripper, elbow, and top rotator) are made from NinjaTek’s legendary NinjaFlex filament. By using these flexible muscles, Roybal was able to use fewer gear motors and servos—a move he believes other roboticists would do well to replicate.

“I believe the future of practical and affordable robot assistants will involve soft artificial muscles such as those used here,” Roybal explained. “They are lighter and less expensive than the standard gear motors and power servos used by most present day robots. They are also less dangerous around humans as they have a certain amount of built-in give if they push against a human. While some gear motors and servos will still be necessary, many can ultimately be replaced with air-powered artificial muscles. While there are many experimental artificial muscles in the works, air-powered artificial muscles are the only practical muscles available today for small robots.”

Roybal printed the soft parts of Zizzy on a Makerbot Replicator 2, using the following settings:

  • Infill: 10%
  • Shells: 2
  • Layer Height: .2mm
  • Temp: 235 C
  • Speed Extruding: 30 mm/s
  • Speed Traveling: 150 mm/s
  • No rafts or supports

In addition to its convenient functions and advanced pneumatic muscle design, Zizzy has been designed with longevity in mind. It features a modular construction, with its muscles and grippers able to plug in and out for quick replacement and upgrades. The talking circuit and master robot neuron are also modular, so a potential Zizzy Mk. II could be obtained in no time at all.

Roybal has warned that, at present, Zizzy is not ready for practical use. The designer is, however, working on a number of features in order to improve the design. He is currently attempting to widen Zizzy’s vocabulary, add extra remote control commands, design a new 80-degree-movement arm exoskeleton, and develop an improved gripper. Once these upgrades are finalized, Zizzy will be almost ready for deployment in basic situations. Roybal also plans to implement infrared sensors to Zizzy’s head so the robot can recognize a human face and orient itself towards it.

Roybal’s 3D printed creation is a good example of the maker community directing its technical expertise into a potentially useful humanitarian project. It seems reasonable to imagine that a community of roboticists could someday pool their ideas to create assistive robots like Zizzy on a mass scale, in the same way that the international e-NABLE community is providing 3D printed prosthetic hands to children in need.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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