Aug 31, 2016 | By Alec

When first announced, the very concept of virtual reality seemed to have little to do with 3D printing. But over the last few years, it has become very apparent that VR goggles can even function as fantastic intuitive design tools for 3D printable objects. Just a few weeks ago, Sketchfab even launched new VR features that make the viewing of 3D printable models easier. But product designers from 219 Design have brought the two technologies together in a totally different way. Using 3D printing and open-source electronics, they have created a 3D printed robotic arm that you can control through VR hardware.

If anything, this clearly illustrates the inseparable bond between digital systems and 3D printing. 219 Design itself is a Silicon Valley-based product engineering company that grew out of a group of Stanford graduates. Over the last few years they have really established themselves as innovative product developers, and regularly work with a wide range of technologies, including 3D printing.

Through their work, they also crossed paths with interactive virtual reality technology, and built the Interact VR product evaluation app. “After our success with the [VR] app, we wondered how we could take our new found capabilities in virtual reality and use them to bridge the gap between the virtual and real world,” 219 Design’s Daniel Piedrahita says of the project. “After looking at both available technologies and our clients’ needs, we decided to develop a tool that would allow us to control a device in the real world through a virtual reality interface.”

As Dave Bim-Merle further revealed, the project also grew out of the interests of a summer intern. “He also wanted to do some work with robotics. We wanted to come up with a project he could do in the relatively short amount of time he had available to spend with us. What we were interested in was coming up with a way — even if it was just a tiny step — to take a person in virtual reality and bring them back into real reality,” he said. This became a robotic arm that could be intuitively controlled through their virtual reality app and a HTC Vive headset.

The system was actually relatively easy to build, thanks to the company’s rapid prototyping tools and experience with iterative, flexible, and interdisciplinary design processes. Among others, they relied on mathematical modeling, MATLAB simulation, computer aided design, open source electronics and 3D printing.

While little more than a proof of concept, it does pave the way for various applications. The wearer of the VR headset has “precise and intuitive” real time control over the arm, and can easily ‘teach’ the robot various motions that it can later repeat on command. “Recording a new behavior is as easy as pressing a record button, grabbing the robot arm end effector in VR, and dragging it in 3D space,” they say.

This makes it suitable for various applications on any scale. Manufacturing robots can be designed and quickly programmed in VR, including most their behavior. “Anyone could easily and quickly program – or reprogram – the robot’s behavior effortlessly, said Piedrahita. At the same time, this system will allow for robotic systems to enter hazardous or remote regions without prior commands, such as bomb disposal situations. But even the medical sector can benefit. “For example, a surgeon in California could intuitively perform an operation on a patient in Tokyo without any previous intensive training on robot control,” Piedrahita adds.

While by no means a commercial tool just yet, this remarkable 3D printed innovation by 219 Design will doubtlessly return in future projects for clients. “Our hope is that this project inspires other engineers to develop systems that integrate the intuitiveness of virtual reality with the precision and power of robotics,” Piedrahita concludes.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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