MIT 3D prints a working robot by combining liquids and solids

3D printing is getting better. New materials are becoming available to use, the printers are getting more precise, and the tools to help you design 3D objects to print are improving. However, they still just print static objects, with anything more complicated needing some assembly and/or use of pre-existing manufactured parts. That could soon be a thing of the past, though, if MIT’s latest 3D printing technique pans out.

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has managed to successfully 3D print a working robot. That’s a robot requiring no assembly and no special 3D printing hardware. Instead, CSAIL has combined printing of solids and liquids simultaneously into the process, allowing for the creation of hydraulics.

By printing solids and liquids at the same time, MIT can form soft objects that move. As shown in the video, this allows for gears that pump fluids, bellows that can act as working legs, and even crankshafts to actuate hydraulic transmission.

The end result is a complex 3D printed object with moving parts. Hook up a battery and electric motor, and those parts can be made to work together producing a walking robot, for example.

The creation of printable hydraulics for fabricating robots has been supported by a National Science Foundation grant and is sure to continue being developed. Being able to 3D print an entire robot saves time and avoids mistakes. It does mean we are getting closer to a world in which robots assemble other robots, though.

Top of the list for improvements is printing speed. The hexapod robot seen in the video took 22 hours to print, but that’s more to do with the limitations of existing 3D printers than the technique used.

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