MIT researchers created a system that prints functional drones and robots

LaserFactory cuts out a shape, then adds circuitry and components.


Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have created a system that can build fully functional drones, robots and other electronic devices by itself. As the name suggests, LaserFactory is built around a laser cutter in a two-part setup involving a software package for designing devices and a machine that brings them to life.

Users can design a device with components from a library, add circuit traces (i.e. the electrical lines on a circuit board) and make some tweaks with a 2D editor. Once you’re happy with your creation, the software sends the directions to the LaserFactory hardware. Along with the laser cutter, the system includes a device that prints the circuitry and puts together components.

LaserFactory cuts out the required shape, adds lines of silver for the circuit traces, places components and cures the silver to complete the device, which is then ready for use. As seen in a cool CSAIL video that shows off the system, a drone is able to take off as soon as LaserFactory has constructed it.

MIT points to a wide range of possible uses for LaserFactory, such as the ability to quickly build more drones for search and rescue operations or for deliveries. Designers and makers could use it to quickly prototype electronic products, such as wearables, since it can create foldable structures.

The researchers plan to refine LaserFactory by improving the quality and fidelity of circuit traces so that the system can build more complex, denser devices. The team also plans to look into ways of expanding LaserFactory to create more three-dimensional shapes, perhaps through the use of a 3D printer.