Printable Hydraulics

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab (CSAIL) just managed to print a robot anchored on a process they call, ‘printable hydraulics’—which allows them to create pumps filled with liquid in the manufacturing process. In short, it allowed them to 3D print a walking robot.

Their achievement highlights the opportunities that 3D printing has for the production of functional machines. “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,” says CSAIL director, Daniella Rus.

How They Did It

To print these functional machines, the team used an inkjet 3D printer that releases drops of material that are just a fraction of the width of human hair. Structural areas are built using photopolymer placed on the deck and hardened using UV light.

After a lot of trial and error related to what materials—liquids and solids—would work best, the team found a combination that managed to successfully print a working robot in just a single printing session.

The team believes this is the best way to print multiple materials, as it offers precision and control in terms of where materials are placed. Though it is still in its early days, the method has nevertheless been able to produce a hexapod that could move via 12 hydraulic pumps built within the body.

Including the addition of a motor, the entire process took just 22 hours to complete.

Eventually, the team hopes to improve the process so that they can produce something from scratch during emergency situations—such as search and rescue missions, where the printed robot can be used to haul civilians out of disaster zones.

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