MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) has created a method for 3D printing hydraulically-powered robot parts that require no assembly.
That’s right — we can now 3D print entire robots. Perhaps more troubling is that one day, robots will be able to print robots. It’s the beginning of the end.
CSAIL uses a technique that 3D prints using a combination of materials. It prints both solid and liquid at the same time, which can then be articulated. It also uses a commercially available 3D printer.
“Our approach, which we call ‘Printable Hydraulics,’ is a step towards the rapid fabrication of functional machines,” says CSAIL Director Daniela Rus. “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.”
Liquids are still the biggest problem in the equation, but CSAIL used an inkjet printer to deposit materials that are 20-30 microns in diameter (less than the width of a typical human hair). The printer deposits the materials into different parts, then uses UV light to solidify material around the liquids.
Oddly enough, our symbiotic relationship with 3D printing hardware may eventually doom us. “Accelerating the process depends less on the particulars of our technique, and more on the engineering and resolution of the printers themselves,” says Rus. “Printing ultimately takes as long as the printer takes, so as printers improve, so will the manufacturing capabilities.”
Still, it’s cool technology, even if hydraulic robots end up edging us into extinction.