Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have successfully utilized a new 3D printing method to produce a six-legged, walking robot powered by hydraulics.
Termed “printable hydraulics” by the research team, the method “is a step towards the rapid fabrication of functional machines,” said Daniela Rus, CSAIL’s director, in a statement. “All you have to do is stick in a battery and motor, and you have a robot that can practically walk right out of the printer.”
A paper on the technology will be presented this summer at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.
The hexapod robot measures less than 6 inches long, and weighs 1.5 pounds. Locomotion is achieved by a single DC motor that spins a crankshaft, which pumps fluid into the stilt-like legs.
During the fabrication process, the researchers use an inkjet printer to extrude droplets of material, each of which are between 20 and 30 microns in diameter. As the printer goes about depositing each layer, an ultraviolet light is used to solidify the materials, save for the intentionally liquid portions. “The printer uses multiple materials, though at a more basic level each layer consist of a ‘photopolymer,’ which is a solid, and ‘a non-curing material,’ which is a liquid,” according to MIT.
Besides the robot’s motor and power supply, the entire apparatus is the result of 3D printing. Even the bellows are 3D printed.
According to engineering professor Hod Lipson, of Columbia University, the CSAIL technique is a step from strictly printing passive parts towards printing active integrated systems. Lipson wasn’t involved in the study.
“Building robots doesn’t have to be as time-consuming and labor-intensive as it’s been in the past,” said Rus. “3D printing offers a way forward, allowing us to automatically produce complex, functional, hydraulically-powered robots that can be put to immediate use.”
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