Developing Custom robots in a Matter of Minutes

CSAIL’s “Interactive Robogami” lets you design and 3-D print origami-inspired robots from 2-D designs.

Developing Custom robots in a Matter of Minutes
Interactive Robogami enables the fabrication of a wide range of robot designs. Photo: MIT CSAIL

Robotics is an area where a number of scientific fields meet. This fact already is a source of attraction for various scientists, engineers, and the public as well. Even if it becomes popular, it is incredibly difficult to make. The complete process takes a long time and makes large expenses also.

To make the process easy, MIT scientists have developed a system called “Interactive Robogami”. This newly developed system allows users to design custom robots within few minutes, and then 3-D print. The complete process takes almost 4 hours to assemble.

Co-lead author Adriana Schulz said, “Designing custom robots usually requires expertise that only mechanical engineers and roboticists have.”

“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.”

The key feature of this system is, it allows designers to determine both the robot’s movement (gait) and shape (geometry).

How does this system work?

Scientists used simulations and AI algorithms for design composition. This allows researchers to focus on high-level conceptual design. It holds the potential to effectively analyze factors such as speed and stability to make suggestions. Next, it makes sure that user doesn’t create a robot so top-heavy that it can’t move without tipping over.

Researchers also used 3D printing and fold technique to fabricate the custom robot as flat faces connected at joints. Latterly by combining the most effective parts of 2-D and 3-D printing, it folds the design into final shape.

Ph.D. graduate Cynthia Sung said, “3-D printing lets you print complex, rigid structures, while 2-D fabrication gives you lightweight but strong structures that can be produced quickly.”

“By 3-D printing 2-D patterns, we can leverage these advantages to develop strong, complex designs with lightweight materials.”

During experiments, scientists used eight subjects with 20 minutes of training and asked to perform two tasks. The first task involves creating a mobile, stable car design in just 10 minutes. The second task involves creating a trajectory to navigate the robot through an obstacle course in the least amount of travel time.

Within 10-15 mins scientists developed a total of 6 robots. They then took 3-7 hours to assemble it completely. The team found that their 3-D print-and-fold method reduced printing time by 73 percent and the amount of material used by 70 percent.

In addition to this, the robot demonstrated a wide range of movement, like using single legs to walk.

Sung said, “You can quickly design a robot that you can print out, and that will help you do these tasks very quickly, easily, and cheaply. It’s lowering the barrier to have everyone design and create their own robots.”

Through this, the user can develop new approaches to teaching computational thinking and creating. Students can not only learn by coding and make their own robots, but by bringing to life conceptual ideas about what their robots can actually do.