A team from ETH Zurich university in Switzerland is developing what could be the first house in the world to be designed, planned, and built using using mostly digital processes. The project, called DFAB House, will be realized through a combination of 3D printing, robots, and ingenuity.
The three-storey DFAB House, a part of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication Project, will reportedly be built at the Dübendorf NEST campus, a research and innovation campus operated by the EMPA institute for material science and technology and the EAWAG organization for aquatic research.
Infill optimization in 3D printing is something that is constantly being tinkered with by designers, mathematicians and researchers around the world. The reason is ultimately to find ways to produce more with less.
We usually think of cyborgs as part human, part machine, but roboticists don’t limit themselves that way. Researchers have developed a hybrid robot built with body parts from a novel source: sea slugs.
German manufacturing and electronics company Siemens has engine tested its new 3D printed gas turbine blades. The 3D printed components were tested at 13,000 revolutions per minute and temperatures beyond 1,250 degrees Celsius.
Robotics engineers have used 3D printing to create the joints for ‘Bat Bot,’ a futuristic flying robot that mimics the way bats move through the air. The winged creation, otherwise known simply as ‘B2,’ could serve as an aerial service robot.
Cornell researchers have used a 3D printer and four-step soft lithography to create a soft robotic hand that can feel surfaces just like a human. Stretchable optical waveguides act as curvature, elongation, and force sensors in the 3D printed hand.
Touching, feeling, and grasping are things we start doing from the day we are born. That makes them easy to think about in a loose sense, but also difficult to truly put our finger on. How do we experience the sensation of touch? How could we replicate that sensation in a nonhuman entity? Is touch an internal or external sensation? A research team at Cornell University, led by assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Robert Shepherd, is concerned with these very questions, and has used 3D printing to try and answer them.
While most robots achieve grasping and tactile sensing through motors, Shepherd and co have devised a soft robotic hand, built using 3D printed molds, which uses the external tips of its fingers to gather information while actually “feeling” the sensation internally—much like humans do. Doctoral student Huichan Zhao is lead author of the paper, “Optoelectronically Innervated Soft Prosthetic Hand via Stretchable Optical Waveguides,” which is featured in the debut edition of Science Robotics.
“Most robots today have sensors on the outside of the body that detect things from the surface,” Zhao said. “Our sensors are integrated within the body, so they can actually detect forces being transmitted through the thickness of the robot, a lot like we and all organisms do when we feel pain, for example.”
The researchers created a clever system that is able to feel its surroundings through light. As the soft robotic hand deforms, more light is lost through the core, and that loss of light is detected by a photodiode. The team employed a four-step soft lithography process to produce the core (which light passes through), and the cladding (the outer surface of the waveguide), which also houses an LED and the photodiode.
In addition to soft lithography, 3D printing also plays an important role in the process: “We 3D print the molds using a PolyJet printer (Objet30) for our optical waveguides,” the researchers explain in the paper. “This fabrication process generates a surface roughness of 6 nm between the core and cladding. This relatively rough interface causes scattering and thus more loss of propagation; however, the design freedom of 3D printing allows for complex sensor shapes.”
Optical waveguides such as those used by the Cornell researchers have been in use since the early 1970s for tactile, position, and acoustic sensing, amongst other things. Making these devices used to be difficult, but the rise of soft lithography and 3D printing over the last two decades has given rise to the rapid production of elastomeric sensors for soft robotic applications.
The optoelectronic hand, made from 3D printed molds, has been able to perform a variety of tasks, such as grasping and probing for both shape and texture. Interestingly (for both scientists and food lovers), the hand was able to scan three tomatoes and determine, by softness, which was the ripest.
Although able to process data just like a human hand, it is essentially the presence or absence of light which enables the device to understand the surfaces it touches. “If no light was lost when we bend the prosthesis, we wouldn’t get any information about the state of the sensor,” Shepherd said. “The amount of loss is dependent on how it’s bent.”
The unusual research project, which involved 3D printing, soft lithography, and the use of optical waveguides, was supported by a grant from Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and made use of the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility and the Cornell Center for Materials Research, both of which are supported by the National Science Foundation.
When it comes to desktop 3D printing, we are still relatively limited when compared to the tools which larger companies have at their fingertips. While we are still leaps and bounds ahead of the manufacturing technology that makers and hobbyists had access to 5-10 years ago, we are still quite a ways off from being able to fully reap the benefits of self-manufacturing the products we need on an everyday basis.
Industrial 3D printer manufacturer 3D Platform has just released their new SurePrint Servo Motor Upgrade Package for their large format 3DP1000 3D printer. The new upgrade package offers new and existing customers the option to produce 3D printed parts with a much higher level of print detail, faster printing speeds and higher print accuracy than was possible with the printer’s existing stepper motors. The new servo motors offer advanced mechatronics and improved motor control that will produce more highly accurate and detailed 3D printed parts faster than ever before.
Boston Dynamics has just posted an incredible video showcasing a massively upgraded version of the ATLAS robot that they initially developed for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. While BD calls this the “next generation” of ATLAS, it looks like such an enormous technological leap forward that it’s more like a completely different species.
There are two generalized schools of thought when it comes to robot hand design. You have robot hands that are simple and straightforward and get the job done, like two- or three-finger grippers that can reliably do many (if not most) things well without any fuss. And then you have very complex handswith four fingers and a thumb that are designed to closely mimic human hands, on the theory that human hands were intelligently designed by millions of years of evolution, and we’ve designed all of our stuff around them anyway, so if you want your robot to be able to do as many things as possible as well as possible you want a hand that’s as humanlike as possible.