Printable Robots Fold Up Like Origami Figures
A new kind of robot can literally be printed on demand.
And we're not even talking about a fancy 3D printer. The new process, developed by MIT researchers, involves using 2D printing technology to produce robots that fold up, origami-style. Right now, it's a hand-made project. But the creator, Daniela Rus, a professor of robotics at MIT, imagines the technology being inexpensively automated in the future, allowing everyday consumers to create, customize and print their own specialized robot quickly.
“The research revolutionizes the design and manufacturing of robots, with a profound potential impact on society,” said Ralph Wachter, a program director at the National Science Foundation, which provided funding for the project.
The process of creating these miniature robots is relatively simple: A sheet of plastic is placed into an inkjet printer. Then, a sheet of copper is placed on top of the sheet of plastic, and a circuit — which is required to control the device — is printed onto it. Next, a laser-cutter traces out the shape of the robot’s body, which then folds together — no glue, screws or staples required. Add a motor and sensors, and the robot comes to life.
Rus believes the process has the potential to transform manufacturing and democratize access to robots. In fact, she said, they could even be used as educational tools in schools. The relatively simple printing process will make it possible to easily produce handy robots for more tasks, such as helping people with disabilities reach and pick up household objects.
“My goal is to make robots more capable, more autonomous…to bring machines into everyday life in such a way that our lives will be improved and enhanced by these machines,” Rus said.