New algorithms and electronic components developed by MIT researchers could one day enable printable robots that self-assemble when heated.
As MIT’s Larry Hardesty reports, 3D printed robots have long been a topic of research in the lab of Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. At this year’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, her group introduced a new wrinkle on the idea: bakable robots.
More specifically, the researchers demonstrated the promise of printable robotic components that, when heated, automatically fold into prescribed three-dimensional configurations. One method developed by the MIT team takes a digital specification of a 3D shape — such as a computer-aided design, or CAD, file — and generates the 2D patterns that would enable a piece of plastic to reproduce it through self-folding. The other method explores building electrical components from self-folding laser-cut materials.
“We have this big dream of the hardware compiler, where you can specify, ‘I want a robot that will play with my cat,’ or ‘I want a robot that will clean the floor,’ and from this high-level specification, you actually generate a working device,” Rus explained.
“So far, we have tackled some subproblems in the space, and one of the subproblems is this end-to-end system where you have a picture and at the other end, you have an object that realizes that picture. And the same mathematical models and principles that we use in this pipeline we also use to create these folded electronics.”
Interested in learning more about baking your own robot? You can check out Larry Hardesty’s full report here.