Creating your own robot is no easy task. (Unless you’re Simone Giertz, of course.) But in the future, people with no robotics experience might be able to design their own working versions in just minutes. Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) are developing a way to allow non-experts to create 3D-printed robots in less than a day.
Called Interactive Robogami, the system lets users determine the shape of the robot and how it moves, with simulations and interactive feedback to help speed along the process for people with no experience designing, programming, prototyping, and tweaking autonomous machines. Instead of starting from scratch, you can choose between 50 different shapes (including bodies, wheels, and legs) and gaits. The system helps guide you into creating a robot that is feasible, rather than one that won’t be stable enough to move. You can see some examples of Robogami robots at the 46-second mark in the video below:
You can’t print custom robots yet, but the team's new study in the International Journal of Robotics Research suggests that it might be possible soon. Their tests gave eight different people 20 minutes of training before letting them loose to design a moving car in under 10 minutes, using a Robogami design that prints in 2D and can be folded into a 3D machine. The participants were able to design robots that could move in a wide range of ways with both legs and wheels, all designed in 10 to 15 minutes, printed in less than seven hours, and assembled in 30 to 90 minutes.
“Designing robots usually requires expertise that only mechanical engineers and roboticists have,” one of the lead authors, Adriana Schulz, explained in an MIT press release. “What’s exciting here is that we’ve created a tool that allows a casual user to design their own robot by giving them this expert knowledge.”
CSAIL researchers have previously developed other origami-style robots that can rid your stomach of indigestible items like small batteries. Elsewhere at the university, researchers are working on flexible, modular robots that you can bend, twist, and customize, and gel robots that can catch and release a live fish.