If you thought that the 3D printed robot named Jimmy, which Intel has been showing off this past week was cool, then you will really be impressed by a project that is being worked on by MIT researchers. When picturing our future, and the role in which technology will play within it, we all likely envision robot helpers, making life easier, while providing all sorts of human-like interactions with their owners. What we probably didn’t envision, however, is that we may be 3D printing out our own robot in a flat sheet of material, which when put into the oven, self assembles. That kind of technology is even outside the realm of the Star Trek writer’s imagination – not MIT researchers though.
Want to build your very own robot? It turns out all you might need is a little heat. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed 3D-printed robots that can assemble themselves together after being exposed to heat. They demonstrated how these prototypes work in two new studies, to be presented at the 2014 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation held in Hong Kong next week. Using a type of polymer called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, the research team led by Daniela Rus created two-dimensional sheets of the material and placed them between two rigid polyester films full of different sized slits. They noted that the position of the slits are important for controlling the angles at which the PVC sheets will fold. Then, the sheets just need to be popped in the oven. When the material is heated, the PVC contracts and the slits close, pressing the edges of the polyester film up against each other. These edge patterns ultimately direct the movement of the PVC and help to form the final 3D shape of the product.