3D printed robots with bones, ligaments, and tendons

Schema of the tender robotic hand. Credit: Thomas Buchner / ETH Zurich

3D printing is advancing quickly, and the vary of supplies that can be utilized has expanded significantly. Whereas the expertise was beforehand restricted to fast-curing plastics, it has now been made appropriate for slow-curing plastics as properly. These have decisive benefits as they’ve enhanced elastic properties and are extra sturdy and strong.

The usage of such polymers is made potential by a brand new expertise developed by researchers at ETH Zurich and a US start-up. Consequently, researchers can now 3D print advanced, extra sturdy robots from a wide range of high-quality supplies in a single go. This new expertise additionally makes it simple to mix tender, elastic, and inflexible supplies. The researchers can even use it to create delicate constructions and elements with cavities as desired.

Supplies that return to their authentic state

Utilizing the brand new expertise, researchers at ETH Zurich have succeeded for the primary time in printing a robotic hand with bones, ligaments and tendons made of various polymers in a single go. The researchers from Switzerland and the US have now collectively published the expertise and their pattern purposes within the journal Nature.

“We wouldn’t have been able to make this hand with the fast-curing polyacrylates we’ve been using in 3D printing so far,” explains Thomas Buchner, a doctoral pupil within the group of ETH Zurich robotics professor Robert Katzschmann and first creator of the examine.

“We’re now utilizing slow-curing thiol-ene polymers. These have superb elastic properties and return to their authentic state a lot quicker after bending than polyacrylates.” This makes thiol-ene polymers superb for producing the elastic ligaments of the robotic hand.

Printed robots with bones, ligaments, and tendons
Additional examples of sentimental robotic constructions. Credit: Thomas Buchner / ETH Zurich

As well as, the stiffness of thiol-enes might be fine-tuned very properly to fulfill the necessities of sentimental robots. “Robots made of soft materials, such as the hand we developed, have advantages over conventional robots made of metal. Because they’re soft, there is less risk of injury when they work with humans, and they are better suited to handling fragile goods,” Katzschmann explains.

Scanning as an alternative of scraping

3D printers usually produce objects layer by layer: nozzles deposit a given materials in viscous kind at every level; a UV lamp then cures every layer instantly. Earlier strategies concerned a tool that scraped off floor irregularities after every curing step. This works solely with fast-curing polyacrylates. Gradual-curing polymers reminiscent of thiol-enes and epoxies would gum up the scraper.

To accommodate using slow-curing polymers, the researchers developed 3D printing additional by including a 3D laser scanner that instantly checks every printed layer for any floor irregularities.

“A feedback mechanism compensates for these irregularities when printing the next layer by calculating any necessary adjustments to the amount of material to be printed in real time and with pinpoint accuracy,” explains Wojciech Matusik, a professor on the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how (MIT) within the US and co-author of the examine. Which means that as an alternative of smoothing out uneven layers, the brand new expertise merely takes the unevenness into consideration when printing the following layer.

Printed robots with bones, ligaments, and tendons
Picture montage of the tender robotic hand holding objects. Credit: ETH Zurich / Thomas Buchner

Inkbit, an MIT spin-off, was liable for growing the brand new printing technology. The ETH Zurich researchers developed a number of robotic purposes and helped optimize the printing expertise to be used with slow-curing polymers.

At ETH Zurich, Katzschmann’s group will use the expertise to discover additional prospects and to design much more subtle constructions and develop extra purposes. Inkbit is planning to make use of the brand new expertise to supply a 3D printing service to its prospects and to promote the brand new printers.

Extra data:
Robert Katzschmann, Imaginative and prescient-controlled jetting for composite methods and robots, Nature (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06684-3.

3D printed robots with bones, ligaments, and tendons (2023, November 15)
retrieved 15 November 2023

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