While 3D printers can even build life-saving components in a relatively short amount of time, they can’t make more complex devices like working drones and robots that work right out of the printer.
A group of researchers from the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAIL) developed a new platform with an eye-catching automated process: it prints functional, customized robotic devices without human intervention.
The system called “LaserFactory” consists of two parts: a software toolkit that allows users to design custom devices and a hardware platform that automates the manufacturing process.
In a press release, CSAIL Ph.D. The student Martin Nisser describes the platform as a “one-stop-shop” that could be of great use to robotics, educators and product developers who want to quickly build a prototype.
“Making production inexpensive, quick and accessible to laypeople remains a challenge,” explains Nisser. “Using widely used manufacturing platforms such as 3D printers and laser cutters, LaserFactory is the first system to integrate these functions and automate the entire pipeline for manufacturing functional devices in one system.”
Democratization of the robot building process
The researchers plan to learn more about their project at an event in May. However, the following description in the team’s press release gives a good overview of how the platform works:
“Let’s say a user has the desire to create their own drone. They first design their device by placing components from a parts library on it and then drawing on traces, which are copper or aluminum lines on a circuit board Let electricity flow between electronic components.
“Then they’d finalize the drone’s geometry in the 2D editor. In that case, they’d use propellers and batteries on the canvas, wire them to make electrical connections, and draw the perimeter to define the shape of the quadcopter.”
A video details the process of users previewing their design before the proprietary software translates their custom design into instructions for individual file machines that can create the device all at once.
In terms of hardware, the laser cutter has an add-on that prints conductive paths and assembles components. The machine can also release and harden silver in order to make conductor tracks conductive.
Impressively, the method allows a drone to fly straight out of the sheet of material that was cut to make its shell.
The researchers hope that their platform will help democratize the process of building robots: “In the future, people should no longer be expected to study engineering to build robots, nor should they be expected to study computer science to install software,” Nisser explains. Anyone could be responsible for Skynet.