Today it can take considerable resources, effort and time to build a single robot. But at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard, a team of researchers is heading up a new five-year project called An Expedition in Computing for Compiling Printable Programmable Machines. The goal is to develop the program and hardware for printing home-built robots.
Individuals would identify problems they need to solve, select a blueprint from an online store containing a number of robotic designs, customize the design using the software that comes with the printing technology, test the design on their computer in simulation mode, make refinements, retest, and then print the design to create the full set of parts and instructions for assembly. The team hopes that they can develop an end-to-end solution that allows a user to design and build the robot from concept to finish within 24 hours.
In past blogs we have described the evolution of 3D printer technology. What the research team envisions as its end product goes well beyond current 3D print capability. The robot printer would create all electrical and mechanical components including controllers and microprocessors. Today’s 3D printers are showing considerable promise but nothing approaching what the team hopes to have in place within five years.
The ultimate goal is custom manufacturing at a price equivalent to a photocopy print job. The two pictures below show examples of the types of robots that the research team believes can be built.