UCLA Engineers 3D Print All-in-One Functional Robots

The engineers have developed a new design strategy and 3D printing technique to build robots in a single step.

Cabe Atwell
3 days agoRobotics / 3D Printing
The robots were designed using metamaterials in the shape of a magnetic lattice that can change form when a magnetic field is introduced. (📷: Rayne Research Group / UCLA)

Engineers from UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute have developed a new 3D printing technique to produce all-in-one robots in a single step that can walk, maneuver and jump without add-on hardware. The breakthrough allowed the entire mechanical and electronic systems needed to operate a robot to be manufactured all at once by a new type of 3D printing process engineered for metamaterials with multiple functions. Once printed, these robots are capable of propulsion, movement, sensing and decision-making without any additional hardware assembly.

The 3D lattice material was designed using conductive and piezoelectric elements that couple electric field and mechanical strain with an internal network of sensory, moving and structural elements and can move by themselves following programmed commands. With the internal network of moving and sensing already in place, the only external component needed is a small battery to power the robot. To demonstrate the robot’s capabilities, the team designed a trio of “meta-bots” with different features. These include one that can navigate around S-shaped corners and randomly placed obstacles, another capable of escaping in response to a contact impact, while the third robot can walk over rough terrain and even make small jumps.

“We envision that this design and printing methodology of smart robotic materials will help realize a class of autonomous materials that could replace the current complex assembly process for making a robot,” stated Associate Professor Xiaoyu (Rayne) Zheng of UCLA’s Samueli School of Engineering. “With complex motions, multiple modes of sensing and programmable decision-making abilities all tightly integrated, it’s similar to a biological system with the nerves, bones and tendons working in tandem to execute controlled motions.”

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