Now, you can custom design robots within minutes

BOSTON:  Scientists have developed a system that lets you design a robot in minutes, and then 3D-print and assemble it in as little as four hours.

            The process of creating robots is slow and costly: even one small change can mean days or weeks of rethinking and revising important hardware, researchers said.

            One of the key features of the new system is that it allows designers to determine both the robot’s movement (“gait”) and shape (“geometry”), a capability that is often separated in design systems, they said.

            “Designing robots usually requires expertise that only mechanical engineers and roboticists have,” said Adriana Schulz, PhD student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.

            “What is exciting here is that we have created a tool that allows a casual user to design their own robot by giving them this expert knowledge,” said Schulz, co-lead author of the paper published in the International Journal of Robotics Research.

            Interactive Robogami uses simulations and feedback with algorithms for design composition, allowing users to focus on high-level conceptual design.

            Users can choose from a library of over 50 different bodies, wheels, legs and “peripherals,” as well as a selection of different steps (“gaits”).

            The system is able to guarantee that a design is actually possible, analysing factors such as speed and stability to make suggestions and ensure that, for example, the user does not create a robot so top-heavy that it cannot move without tipping over.

            Once designed, the robot is then fabricated. The team’s origami-inspired “3D print and fold” technique involves printing the design as flat faces connected at joints, and then folding the design into the final shape, combining the most effective parts of 2D and 3D printing.

            “3D printing lets you print complex, rigid structures, while 2D fabrication gives you lightweight but strong structures that can be produced quickly,” said Cynthia Sung, PhD graduate from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

            “By 3D-printing 2D patterns, we can leverage these advantages to develop strong, complex designs with lightweight materials,” Sung said.

            Researchers fabricated a total of six robots, each of which took 10 to 15 minutes to design, three to seven hours to print and 30 to 90 minutes to assemble.

            They found that their 3D print-and-fold method reduced printing time by 73 per cent and the amount of material used by 70 per cent.

            The robots also demonstrated a wide range of movement, like using single legs to walk, using different step sequences, and using legs and wheels simultaneously. (AGENCIES)


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