MIT 3D prints a complete walking robot

Just add power.


A team from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab believe that it's created a new way to 3D print whole robots. The breakthrough that researchers have made centers around creating what's being called "printable hydraulics," a way to create liquid-filled pumps inside the manufacturing process. According to CSAIL director Daniella Rus, the technique "is a step towards the rapid fabrication of functional machines." She adds that "all you have to do is stick in a battery and motor and you have a robot that can practically walk right out of the printer."

The technique involves using an inkjet 3D printer that releases drops of material less than half the width of a human hair. For structural areas, photopolymer is placed on the deck and then hardened with a UV light, while the liquid portions are left alone. After lots of trial and error using different combinations of solids and liquids, the team was able to find a winning setup that can create a working robot in one print session. According to Robert MacCurdy, inkjet printing is "the best way to print multiple materials," and that the technology offers "very fine control of material placement."

In order to test the principles, the team built a hexapod that moved thanks to 12 hydraulic pumps built into its body. All that was required then was to cram in a motor and it was away, taking just 22 hours from the start of the build to its conclusion. It's still early days, but it's hoped that the technique can be improved upon to the point where they could be whipped up from scratch in an emergency. Kinda like grandma's last-minute cookie recipe, but for hauling civilians out of disaster zones.