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Scientists can 3D print insect-like robots in minutes

Scientists can 3D print insect-like in minutes

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Flexoskeleton-based soft robot held by James Jiang


UC San Diego

It might soon be relatively trivial to make soft robots — at least, if you have a 3D printer handy. UC San Diego researchers have devised a way to 3D-print insect-like flexible cheaply, quickly and using exotic equipment. The trick was to print “flexoskeletons,” or rigid 3D-printed on to flexible and thin polycarbonate sheets. Much like insects, there are features that increase rigidity only in specific areas — a contrast with conventional soft robots that often have soft features tacked on to solid bodies.

Each flexoskeleton component takes about 10 minutes to print, and a completely assembled bot should be ready in less than two hours. An individual part costs less than $1 — the processing power, sensors and battery are likely to be the most expensive parts.

This will initially help researchers build quickly and easily, but the final aim is to mass-produce robots human involvement. That could lead to robot swarms that can accomplish tasks at least as well as large, monolithic machines, but with lower costs and less risk.

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