3D printed robots are now a thing. See what they can do.

Soft robots are a subset of robotics that utilizes highly pliable building materials. The primary purpose of these robots is to navigate new terrain with obstacles that require a lot of squeezing and bending. Additionally, soft robotics make human-like and animal-like robots more realistic than ever.

As 3D printing improves, engineers and scientists are experimenting with new ways to create 3D printed soft robots. The development of soft robots is still new to the general public, coupled with the fact that they are now 3D printable makes them even more intriguing.

Manufacturers have developed many applications in robotics, seen mostly with combining technology with 3D printing like creating better and more flexible prosthetics and creating a conducive environment for people to experience tactile feedback in a virtual location. 3D printing technology proved to be efficient in building small, flexible robots that are capable of steering through small spaces, just like some creatures in nature.

This piece covers how soft robots are made, the creativity behind them, and the different types of soft robots in development.

Experience Creativity

3D printing and robotics are making a headway in the tech environment and creating some promising projects. These tools have been used to build and work on innovative designs, even though it’s not yet possible to get a fully built humanoid 3D robot. This development has indeed eased some existing processes, by the virtue of new functionalities that are customizable as the tech advances.

What Purpose?

Soft robots have been tested for diverse purposes outside and inside the human body. Examples of these are

  • 3D printed soft silicone pump that can be used as an artificial heart
  • 3D printed micro-biobots, which can safely travel through the human blood vessel and monitor for existing diseases

Some soft robots have been developed for use outside the human body, for monitoring vital health signs, and as a replacement for animals during drug testing.

How Are They Built?

Soft robots are built from highly-compliant materials and can take different shapes to suit their application environments. This enables them to be more application-flexible than most rigid robots and also assures a greater level of maneuverability during application. One challenge flexible materials present, however, is implanting sensors into soft robots can be a bit complicated since sensors are rigid. To deal with this challenge, Harvard researchers developed a conductive ink that enables movement in 3D printed soft robots.

Soft robots are made out of

  • gels
  • fluids
  • polymers

These materials are enabling them to imitate certain functionalities that mimic a human being. Many available printing technologies are able to convert digital data into 3D objects, by bringing together layers of materials until the object is complete. The printing technology, in turn, uses different approaches for layering them.

3D Printed Robots

A lot of soft robots are allowing mass customization, which you will see in the following examples. The goals here are to create a project that could belong to anyone, fit into any environment and be used for any application, and allow vast opportunity for modifications. One of the advantages of this technology is that it’s cheaper to procure. Various researchers have successfully customized both 3D printed humanoid robots and 3D printed animal robots.

Take a look.

3D Printed Humanoid Robots

Kengoro (the robot that sweats)

Built with up to 108 motors, this is one of the most advanced soft robotic projects created with 3D printing. This robot is unique and its ability to sweat while under a certain level of the process makes it even more exceptional. It can perform human-like tasks like push-ups and has a cooling system in case of overheating.

Poppy

This 3D printed soft robot is used for educational purposes and research. It was created by Matthieu Lapevre during his studies. He stated that the goal of this research was to study morphology, locomotion, and human embodiment.

Plen2

Plen2 is another printed 3D soft robot. This soft robot is interesting and quite unique in its smallish sized body and its ability to walk, play, and dance. It can also be controlled using a PC or smartphone.

3D Printed Animal Robots

Octobot

The Octobot is a 3D printed soft robot takes the form of an octopus. It’s void of any rigid components and fully manufactured with 3D printed silicone. Its movement is powered by gas, and not electricity or batteries. Once the gas meets the platinum ink, it creates a chemical reaction that makes the robot move its tentacles.

Robirds

With a resemblance to a bird, Robird was developed by Dutch company Clear Flight Solution. These 3D printed birds can flap their wings like real birds and can be used to scare off other birds. Application areas include airports and industrial areas.