Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com
Researchers are trying to create a platform that would allow individuals to create and customize easy-to-use robotic devices.
The team hopes to develop a project that would automate the process of producing functional 3D devices and allow individuals to design and build functional robots from materials like a sheet of paper.
“This research envisions a whole new way of thinking about the design and manufacturing of robots, and could have a profound impact on society,” MIT Professor Daniela Rus, leader of the project and a principal investigator at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), said in a recent press release. “We believe that it has the potential to transform manufacturing and to democratize access to robots.”
The team hopes to create a platform that would allow individuals to identify household needs, then head to a local print shop to select a blueprint and customize a robotic device to solve the problem.
“This project aims to dramatically reduce the development time for a variety of useful robots, opening the doors to potential applications in manufacturing, education, personalized healthcare, and even disaster relief,” Rob Wood, an associate professor at Harvard University, said.
The team is developing an application programming interface for simple function specification and design, and also writing algorithms to allow control of the assembly of a device and its operations.
“Our goal is to develop technology that enables anyone to manufacture their own customized robot. This is truly a game changer,” Professor Vijay Kumar, who is leading the team from the University of Pennsylvania, said. “It could allow for the rapid design and manufacture of customized goods, and change the way we teach science and technology in high schools.”
The team is also creating an easy-to-use programming language environment so any individual could understand it.
They have two prototyped machines for designing, printing and programming, including an insect-like robot that could be used for exploring a contaminated area, and a gripper that could help people who have limited mobility.
“It´s really exciting to think about the kind of impact this work could have on the general population — beyond just a few select people who work in robotics,” Associate Professor Wojciech Matusik, also a principal investigator at CSAIL, said.
Rob Wood, an associate professor at Harvard University, said they hope this project will dramatically reduce the development time for a variety of robots, from “opening the doors to potential applications in manufacturing, education, personalized healthcare, and even disaster relief.”
The researchers wrote on an overview of the project on their website that they aim to transform manufacturing as dramatically as personal computers have transformed how we communicate.
“Rescuers engaged in humanitarian aid and disaster reliefs in remote locations could minimize their logistic needs on-site,” they wrote. “Warehouses of spare and replacement parts that may never be used could be replaced by storing only their designs digitally, not the physical parts themselves.”
Image Caption: An insect-like robot printed and designed using the new process being developed to revolutionize the way robots are developed. The robot could be used for exploring areas inaccessible to humans. Photo By Jason Dorfman, CSAIL/MIT