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3D Printer and Robot: Soft Body, Hard Core

Jul 09, 2015 10:54 PM EDT

A new, 3D-printed robot has both soft and rigid body parts modeled on animal and insect designs. A team of Harvard scientists reported recently in the journal Science about their invention, which can jump without injury and is easily handled by humans.

The robot was 3D printed in one single printing session--and is powered by butane and oxygen. Three tilting pneumatic legs control its jumps, and its softness increases the robot's overall lifespan, according to a release.

The researchers talked about why they chose 3D printing: "Traditional molding-based manufacturing would be impractical to achieve a functionally-graded robot, you would need a new mold every time you change the robot's design. 3D printing manufacturing is ideal for fabricating the complex and layered body exhibited by our jumping robot," said Nicholas Bartlett, a co-first author on the study and a graduate researcher in bioinspired robotics at the Wyss Institute at Harvard, said a release.

So, 3D will help with quick changes in design, too."This ability to fabricate unitary soft robots composed of gradient materials that emulate natural stiffness gradients of living structures paves the way for mass fabrication of robots that can integrate seamlessly with people, whether in our homes, at work or in operating rooms in the future," said Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., at Harvard's Wyss Institute, according to a release. 

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