Jul 31, 2017 | By Benedict

Disney Research has developed a technique for creating cable-driven mechanisms that could be used to animate 3D printed models of popular Disney characters. The mechanisms can also be used to make simple mechanical systems such as a gripper or robotic hand.

Disney Research, the research arm of the world-famous entertainment giant, has made significant use of 3D printing over the last few years. From 3D printed skin to 3D printed connectors, additive manufacturing is becoming as synonymous with Disney as Donald Duck’s hat and bowtie.

Just last week, Disney Research used an appearance at computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH to present a new method for designing and 3D printing flexible, compliant mechanisms.

But it turns out that the Mickey Mouse-affiliated researchers had more up their sleeve at SIGGRAPH than we originally noticed: in addition to the compliant mechanisms, Disney Research was also demonstrating a new method for designing cable-driven mechanisms that could help artists and hobbyists add motion to 3D printed models of animated characters.

With the use of cable-and-joint assemblies, researchers can incorporate complex poses and motions in their physical characters, which can be 3D printed or created in other ways. These cable-driven mechanisms can replace joint motors, which aren’t suitable for all limb sizes.

Disney Research also says the cable-driven mechanisms can be used to make functional robotic hands and other devices.

“The advent of consumer-level 3D printing and affordable, off-the-shelf electronic components has given artists the machinery to make articulated, physical versions of animated characters,” said research scientist Moritz Bacher. “Our approach eliminates much of the complexity of designing those mechanisms.”

The researchers behind the new cable assembly technique have already tested the process on “Fighter,” a 2D puppet-like model that can assume several desired fighting stances with the mechanisms. They also made a simple robotic hand and a gripper.

“A number of design tools developed over the past 30 years have enabled artists to breathe life into animated characters, creating expressions by posing a hierarchical set of rigid links,” said Markus Gross, vice president at Disney Research. “In today's age of robotics and animatronics, we need to give artists and hobbyists similar tools to make animated physical characters just as expressive.”

To make fully actuated joints, the researchers needed to employ cables in pairs—since each mechanism can only exert force in one direction. Springs were incorporated into the joints to move them in the opposite direction when cable tension is eased.

But the technique for generating these assemblies is actually much more advanced than it first appears. Users can design a 3D printable frame or assembly of rigid links and hinges, and then specify a set of target poses for those assemblies. Special software then generates a cable network that will be capable of effecting those poses, starting with potentially thousands cables, and then gradually reducing that number through a process of optimization.

Researchers used the technique to build their 2D Fighter, which uses just three cables to achieve its various poses. The software first generated 1600 cables, then optimized the setup to reduce the number to eight, before optimizing again to reduce the number to just three.

Other demonstrator pieces demonstrated the various advantages of the method. A 2D gripper made with cable mechanisms was able to lift lightweight objects, while the three-finger, one-thumb robotic hand showed that the technique can be used to combine cable drives in more than one plane.

The Disney Research staff were supported on the project by researchers from ETH Zurich, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Toronto.

The research was documented in a paper, “Designing Cable-Driven Actuation Networks for Kinematic Chains and Trees,” authored by Vittorio Megaro (Disney Research Zurich), Espen Knoop (Disney Research Zurich), Andrew Spielberg (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), David I.W. Levin (University of Toronto), Wojciech Matusik (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Markus Gross (Disney Research Zurich), Bernhard Thomaszewski (Disney Research Zurich), and Moritz Bächer (Disney Research Zurich).



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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