Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed an interactive design platform to create 3D printed robots.

The interactive tool guides the design process of robotics with a drag and drop function before the robot’s parts can be 3D printed and combined with off-the-shelf actuators. The toolkit was developed by Carnegie Mellon’s Ruta Desai, Stelian Coros, and master’s student Ye Yuan. It is hoped the tool will encourage use of robotics and allow users to become more familiar with robotic technology.

Gif shows the dragging of components to create the robo-calligrapher design. Images via Ruta Desai. 

Build-a-robot

The purpose of the toolkit is to provide an accessible guide for both amateurs and professionals to build robots. The interface of the system is designed for ease of use and provides users with different components which can then be dragged and dropped into place. The software will automatically provide suggestions for where modules should be placed and the components will click into place when dragged towards the suggested positions.

In addition, the platform features a simulation software that will test the design and notify the user if it will not function properly when fabricated. To demonstrate the potential of the software the team created two different robots, the ‘robo-calligrapher’ and the ‘Puppy.’ 3D printing has proven a useful manufacturing tool for robots in recent years and researchers at UC San Diego recently 3D printed an all-terrain soft robot.

Future of robotics

Stelian Coros, assistant professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon, explains the main motivation behind the project is to encourage people to engage with the design and creation of robotics. Particularly since, as he explains, “creating new robotic systems today is notoriously challenging, time-consuming and resource-intensive.” Coros explains making the process easier is particularly important with the use of robotics expected to increase in the future, “robots will be part of the fabric of daily life and more people – not just roboticists – will want to customize robots. This type of interactive design tool would make this possible for just about anybody.”

Coros believes the tool will also in turn help the adoption of robotic technology since, “people who play an active role in creating robotic devices for their own use are more likely to have positive feelings and higher quality interactions with them. This could accelerate the adoption of robots in everyday life.” While in this case 3D printing has been used in the production of robots, some are taking the opposite approach and developing robots to help with the production of 3D printing. New York based 3D printing bureau, Voodoo Manufacturing has installed a robotic arm to further automate its production process.

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Featured image shows the design and testing of two robots. Image via Carnegie Mellon University.

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