Design and print your own customized robot

Posted by Emma Woollacott

MIT researchers are working to develop a desktop technology allowing people to design, customize and print a specialized robot on demand.

The robots could be created in a matter of hours, says MIT, from materials as easily accessible as a sheet of paper.

"This research envisions a whole new way of thinking about the design and manufacturing of robots, and could have a profound impact on society," says MIT professor Daniela Rus.

"Our vision is to develop an end-to-end process; specifically, a compiler for building physical machines that starts with a high level of specification of function, and delivers a programmable machine for that function using simple printing processes."

The researchers' vision is of a world where an individual can identify a household problem that needs assistance, head to a local printing store to select a blueprint from a library of robotic designs; and then customize an easy-to-use robotic device that could solve the problem.
Within 24 hours, they say, the robot would be printed, assembled, fully programmed and ready for action.

"This project aims to dramatically reduce the development time for a variety of useful robots, opening the doors to potential applications in manufacturing, education, personalized health care and even disaster relief," says Rob Wood, an associate professor at Harvard University.

The research team's already prototyped two machines for designing, printing and programming, including an insect-like robot that could be used for exploring a contaminated area and a gripper that could be used by people with limited mobility.

They're now focusing on developing an API for simple function specification and design; writing algorithms to control the assembly of a device and its operations; creating an easy-to-use programming language environment and designing new, programmable materials that would allow for automatic fabrication of robots.

"It’s really exciting to think about the kind of impact this work could have on the general population — beyond just a few select people who work in robotics," says associate professor Wojciech Matusik, also a principal investigator at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).