Women in Nanoscience

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Women in Nano Blog

Drop-by-drop 3D printing of complex robots

Posted on May 9, 2016 at 6:30 PM

Daniela Rus (Elec. Engr. & CS at MIT) and her team of scientists at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a new way to make complex machine parts using a 3D printer. They printed dynamic robot bodies using a commercially available multi-material 3D inkjet printer and in a single-step process.


This “printable hydraulics” approach, provides a design template that can be tailored to suit robots of different sizes, shapes and functions. As a test case, they made a small six-legged robot with a dozen hydraulic pumps embedded within it. All it needed was some electronics and a battery to make it operational. This advance makes printable robots quick and cheap to produce, with fewer electronic components than standard robots. This research was recently accepted for the 2016 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA).


One very cool aspect of the technique is that the printer employs individual droplets of material that are only 20–30 microns in diameter, in a layer-by-layer deposition process. Different materials are deposited in different parts for each layer. High-intensity UV light then solidified the polymeric materials but not the liquid solvent. The team’s hexapod robot weighed about 1.5 lbs and was under six inches long, and moved using a single DC motor turning a crankshaft that pumped fluid to the robot’s legs. Other potential applications include “lab on a chip” sensors and, indeed, any functional machine that needs to be fabricated quickly.


- Written by Paulette Clancy

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