Nov 20, 2017 | By Benedict

A new computational system allows toy lovers to automatically generate intricate mechanical components for wind-up 3D printed toys. The system has been developed by researchers at University of Science and Technology of China, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and University College London.

In the age of computer games, you’re more likely to find intricate wind-up toys in a museum than a child’s bedroom. But that hasn’t stopped a group of toy-obsessed researchers putting together a novel computational system that allows users to design their own wind-up toys with ease.

The clever new system uses analytic modeling of several elemental mechanisms of wind-up toys, including the geometry and kinematics of those mechanisms, and is able to construct mechanical wind-up toys accurately and automatically. The resulting toys are even optimized to use less energy.

Most people will have played with wind-up toys at some point, but many will not have considered how they work. The motion of these mechanical gizmos is generally caused by a clockwork motor attached to a spring key, which allows an interior spring to be released when the toy is fully wound up. Stored potential energy then activates the internal mechanical parts of the toy.

It’s those individual mechanical parts that make wind-up toys so interesting. Depending on the design of the toy, these parts can result in a bobbing head, swinging arms, spinning wheels, and much more.

These internal mechanical parts are, however, often very difficult to fabricate—especially by hand—since they often consist of small mechanical parts made up of nontrivial shapes, and also need to connect with minimal friction for efficient motion transfer.

With their new computational system, the researchers are making fabrication of wind-up toys easier than ever, and believe that the fun devices could come back into fashion thanks to 3D printing.

“In the era of personalized fabrication like 3D printing, we asked, why can't novices still design customized wind-up toys?” said lead researcher Dr. Peng Song, a former associate researcher of University of Science and Technology China. “We set out to computationally design these expressive toys with moving parts but requiring low energy.”

To bring the idea of easy, 3D printable wind-up toys to life, the researchers analyzed 11 elemental mechanisms of wind-up toys, modeling their geometry, kinematic properties, and connections.

These mechanisms are each able to result in a physical motion like swinging or twisting, and can be automatically placed within a 3D model in order to produce the desired motion without mechanical failure. They’re also optimized in terms of compactness, weight, and interaction with other internal parts. (They won’t accidentally collide with other parts, for example.)

Excitingly, tests have already shown the computational system to work effectively. Novice users were able to design their own toys using the system, before having their creations brought to life via 3D printing.

One prototype, a wind-up teapot, was used to show how the system can produce a more compact mechanism with smaller mechanical parts, also giving it the ability to work longer.

The researchers, who come from University of Science and Technology of China, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and University College London, now hope to use their methods on micro-robot design and mechanical toys with limited battery power.

The findings for the initial research will be presented at SIGGRAPH Asia 2017 in Bangkok, November 27-30.



Posted in 3D Design



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