3D printing is increasingly gaining ground in robot engineering due to the versatile material choice and the flexibility in bringing almost any design to life.
Not only 3D printing is holding the headlines lately, but robotics combining the state of the art technology with a touch of nature inspiration.
This holds true for the bot created by researchers from the University of California at San Diego and Harvard University.
Soft robots are the next generation of robotics. And they have the potential of graduating ‘magna cum laude’ from tests that classic rigid-framed robots could not pass. As is the case of jumping. The 3D printed robot was designed specifically with this test in mind. How to make it jump and overcome physical obstacles that might be in its path, without the use of force.
The small 3D printed robot was designed to comprise two hemispheres, working together to keep the robot from smashing and dismantling.
Michael Tolley, UC at San Diego and Nicholas Bartlett, Harvard University successfully overcame the issue of travelling with their 3D printed prototype. Imitating the jump of a kangaroo or a mantis, their robot can jump the stairs or over a certain length.
That makes the incumbent technology perfect for developing robots that can effectively aid in rescue operations for instance. Certainly, drones or unmanned aerial vehicles are of great help. But robots that can lift, search, and overcome overcome obstacles would provide more invaluable assistance.
The 3D printed upper hemisphere of the robot is printed as a singular module, but comprised nine layers, varying in rigidity from hard to rubber like flexibility. The lower hemisphere is also flexible and soft, keeping the robot from suffering damages when performing a jump or a leap.
The lower hemisphere is finished with three pods that lift the 3D printed robot once the combination of oxygen and butane is ignited.
Using a 3D printer is really what offered the Harvard-UC San Diego team the technological advantage by allowing the entwining of soft and hard surfaces in one structure. Using the variety of materials at hand can also propel 3D printing in the next tool of robotic engineering.
For instance, there is NinjaFlex, that offers 3D printed structures flexibility. Then, Nylon offers 3D printed structures rigidity. There are also materials like wood and copper that can be used in 3D printing.
The soft-rigid 3D printed robot was captured on video during the tests, where by all means, it fared quite well. The two module robot could jump as high as 2 1/2 feet. Also, it leaped ½ foot for each of the 100 leaps it took over a plain surface.
To complete the testing, the engineering team created multiple 3D printed versions of the robot, using different combinations of materials. A fully rigid 3D printed prototype was found to jump higher and leap more but it would shatter in pieces at landing.
Bartlett and Tolley found their inspiration in a species of mussels that turn their soft foot into hard tissue once they touch rock.
Photo Credits harvard.edu