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Cheap robot armies: MIT working on 3D printed household robots

Photo: Jason Dorfman/CSAILHow would you like to design and own your very own robot? A new project led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology envisions a future where the average computer user will be able to design and print out robot helpers for every task.

Funded with a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation, MIT is partnering with researchers from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania in this five-year project entitled “An Expedition in Computing for Compiling Printable Programmable Machines”. The idea is to create tech for your desktop which would allow you to design a unique, specialized robot, and through 3D printing, have that robot printed out within hours.

It currently takes years to program and design a functioning robot. It also takes a good pile of money as well: hardware, software design, advanced programming and machine learning. By automating the process, individuals would be able to produce a functioning robot with cheap materials. As you can see, the researchers have already begun with origami robots. The two prototyped machines include an insect-like robot, possibly used as a scout/explorer, and a gripper robot.

Professor Vijay Kumar from the University of Pennsylvania calls the idea a gamechanger which, for starters, could change how high schools approach science and technology. But the potential for the project is vast and could be applied to education as well as manufacturing, personalized health care and even disaster relief according to Harvard associate professor Rob Wood. One of the research plans involves creating a platform which would identify an individuals household problems, then allow that problem-solving robot, picked from an array of different robot blueprints, to be printed at a local printing store (robot Kinkos?).

“It’s really exciting to think about the kind of impact this work could have on the general population — beyond just a few select people who work in robotics,” says Associate Professor Wojciech Matusik.