MIT researchers just made a giant leap for robot-kind, by creating a working robot using 3D-printing. The breakthrough could lead to a world of ready-made machines that come off the production line needing only a motor and a battery. The initial prototype is tiny, but it demonstrates that a 3D printer with inkjet nozzles can print both liquid and solids, with a little help from UV light.
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) is pioneering the field of “printable hydraulics,” which involves building liquid-filled pumps during the manufacturing process. Researchers used a commercially available 3D printer to create a robot made of both solids and liquids, for the first time in history. The painstaking process of printing the hydraulic prototype took 22 hours, which is actually quite short considering the complexity of the job.
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As proof of concept, the team printed a tiny six-legged robot that crawls using 12 hydraulic pumps, all of which were created in a single job using one 3D printer. Incorporating liquids into 3D-printing techniques have been a challenge across the field, but the MIT team discovered that an inkjet printer could be used to deposit individual droplets of material that are each 20 to 30 microns in diameter, or less than half the width of a human hair. The printer lays down different materials for each layer, which are cured with UV light.
The result is a ready-made hydraulic robot that CSAIL director Daniella Rus says “can practically walk right out of the printer.”
Images via Robert MacCurdy/MIT CSAIL