Innovative 3D printing technology builds robots in one step

A team of engineers at UCLA has developed a new 3D printing technology and design strategy that allows building robots in one step.

The new study, which shows how robots can be built and walk, maneuver, and jump in Sciences.

Advanced 3D printing process

The new technology involves a 3D printing process of active materials designed with multiple functions, or “supermaterials.” It enables the manufacturing of the entire mechanical and electronic systems required to operate the robot simultaneously. After a 3D printed “meta-bot”, it can carry out movement, propulsion, sensing and decision-making.

Printed materials consist of an internal network of sensory, moving and structural elements that move on their own after being programmed. Since this internal network is lumped together in one place, all that is left is to produce one external component – the small battery to power the robot.

Xiaoyu (Rayne) Zheng is the study’s principal investigator and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, as well as mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering at UCLA’s Samueli School of Engineering.

“We envision that this design and printing methodology for intelligent robotic materials will help achieve a class of autonomous materials that can replace the current complex assembly process for making a robot,” Cheng said. “With complex movements, multiple sensing modes and programmable decision-making capabilities all tightly integrated, it is like a biological system in which nerves, bones, and tendons work in tandem to carry out controlled movements.”

Possible applications

The team combined an onboard battery and controller to make fully autonomous 3D-printed robots. Each of the robots is the size of a fingernail, and according to Zheng, this new method could lead to new designs of biomedical robots. One such biomedical robot could be a swimming robot that navigates autonomously near blood vessels to deliver drugs at target sites in the body.

Another application of 3D-printed robots is to send them into hazardous environments, such as a collapsed building, where a swarm of them can get into tight spaces. These meta-bots can then assess threat levels and assist in rescue efforts.

This is a major breakthrough in robotics since most current robots require a series of complex manufacturing steps to build them. This process results in heavier, bulkier, and weaker robots.

To develop the new method, the team relied on a class of complex lattice materials that change shape and direction in response to an electric field. They can also form an electric charge as a result of physical forces.

Development of new robotic materials

The robotic materials the team developed are just the size of a penny and consist of structural elements that help them bend, twist, stretch, contract or rotate at high speeds.

On top of all this, the team has released a methodology that can be used to design robotic materials, allowing users to create their own models.

Hauchen Cui is the study’s lead author and a UCLA postdoctoral scientist in the Zheng Laboratory of Fabrication and Metamaterials.

“This allows actuation elements to be precisely arranged throughout the robot for fast, complex, extended movements over different types of terrain,” Coy said. “Through the bidirectional piezoelectric effect, robotic materials can also sense intrinsic torsions, detect obstructions via echo and ultrasonic emissions, as well as respond to external stimuli through a feedback control loop that determines how the robots move, and how fast they are moving toward the target they are moving toward. are moving.”

The team used the method to build three different identification bots to demonstrate different capabilities:

  1. Meta-bot that moves around corners in an S shape and is randomly placed in obstacles
  2. Meta-bot can escape in response to a contact’s influence
  3. Meta-bot that walks over rough terrain and makes small jumps

This new 3D printing technology will play a major role in robotics, helping to make building such robots more efficient.

This fascinating paper also included authors Desheng Yao, Ryan Hensleigh, Zhenpeng Xu, and Haotian Lu, who are both graduate students. Ariel Calderon, Postdoctoral Scientist; Zhen Wang, Development Engineering Assistant; Shida Davaria, research associate at Virginia Tech; Patrick Mercier, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California, San Diego; and Pablo Tarazzaga, professor of mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University.