Here's A Robot That's Capable of Autonomous 3D Printing...In Space!

3D printing has been referred to by many as the next Industrial Revolution - a complete overhaul of the means by which we produce goods. With the advent of 3D printing technology, the means of manufacturing has been almost entirely decentralized -  anyone with a few hundred dollars to spare can print anything from clothing to kitchen utensils to robots.

The technology has its limitations, of course. As a general rule, a 3D printer can't create anything much larger than itself - meaning that, in many cases, 3D printing arrays are far too large and unwieldy to be of much practical use. You could not, for example, use a 3D printer to create an entire house, nor could you put together a motor vehicle. They simply aren't made to deal with stuff on that scale.

Well...not unless they're roboticized, anyway. 

The product of PUC-rio's NEXT (3D experimentation) and LIFE (physical computing) labs, 3&Dbot is a world first - a completely autonomous, omnidirectional 3D printing machine.  That's not even the coolest thing about this intelligent robot, either. See, the firm isn't designing 3&Dbot to be used within Earth's atmosphere.

They plan on sending it into space.

"We sought to answer one question," a representative explained to designboom; "how could we design an intelligent, portable object that would be able to overcome the physical limitation of the 3D printer by building structures freely in space?"

That' interesting starting point, I suppose. I mean, most inventors in the field of 3D printing have their sights set on making Earth-bound manufacturing more efficient. PUC-rio is reaching for the stars here - quite literally.

Alright, enough babbling. I'm sure you're all interested in hearing just what 3&Dbot is capable of, right? Let's get down to the important stuff.

Embedded with an Arduino micro-controller and equipped with four industrial omni wheels, 3&Dbot is capable of navigating its way through just about any environment while carrying out a print job. A wireless chip built into the micro-controller allows it to communicate with nearby machines, while an array of sensors allows it to keep track of its surroundings through TUIO fiducial tracking. It can print with a wide selection of different materials, including modeling clay, earthenware, and ceramics. 

All in all, it sounds pretty cool, doesn't it?

Presumably, the team behind the invention has a larger model in mind for bigger, more complex print jobs. After all, it's sort of difficult to imagine this little thing putting together full-sized buildings on the surface of some alien world, or doing work on an orbital space station. Still, I suppose it's still in its conceptual stages - meaning more is yet to come in terms of development and design.

There can be no doubt that 3D printing technology has effectively changed the world, decentralizing manufacturing and equipping pretty much anyone with a bit of extra cash to print out...well, whatever they've the desire to, really. The technology naturally isn't without limits - but through robotics, it looks like those limits are going to be disappearing in the very near future. 

And, y'know, we're going to have robots printing stuff in space. If you don't think that's awesome, then I'm sorry your inner child is gone. Anyway, that's enough out of me for today. Those of you who want to see the robot in action; I've attached a video below. Enjoy!