Robots Made Out Of Paper Are Now A Thing, Apparently
A group of researchers at MIT has just developed a way for anyone with a printer to create their own robot. Using a few simple robotic components worth a total of around $20, scientists have successfully created a robot comprised entirely of paper. As far as strange stories go, this is one of the strangest.
Ankur Mehta, one of the scientists responsible for the paperbot, has published the group's findings in an academic piece titled "An End-to-End System for Designing Mechanical Structures for Print-and-fold Robots".
In the paper. Mehta claims that "the power of robotics comes from customizability in the system design," but that the difficulty and expense involved in the creation of robots has left the field primarily confined to a "domain of experts."
"To bring personalized robots into the homes of the general public," he continues, "the complete design process needs to be reworked." That's where the paper robot project comes in.
Working with a team of researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, Mehta has developed a piece of software which can create a two-dimensional cutout of any design the user Specifies. So if you want a robot shaped like a teacup, or one the size of a shoe with six wheels, you can print it out on paper, rigid cards, or vinyl, provided you've the equipment.
The researchers wish to transform this software into a platform which will enable any individual consumer to head to a local printing store to select a blueprint from a library of robotics designs, customizing an easy-to-use robotic device based on those designs. In this way, they'll be equipping pretty much everyone with the ability to identify and solve their own problems through robotics, rather than waiting on the experts to create a machine that's up to the task.
In the theoretical scenario outlined above, the user would have a printed, fully-assembled and fully-programmed robot ready for action and capable of tackling whatever needs it was created for.
The software Mehta and his team have created makes use of several python scripts in order to take advantage of geometrical laws which allow any three dimensional shape to be translated into a 2D net. The process has been described by Mehta as "intuitive, versatile, and extensible, allowing for quick and easy design of sophisticated robot bodies;" thus far it's been tested with six-legged insectoid robots.
Mehta and his team hope that in addition to equipping consumers with the capacity to create their own robots, the tool will also serve as an affordable means for providing robottics education, allowing people to explore their creativity in the field without having to shell out for pricy components. Ultimately, they're aiming for the technology to "enable quantum leaps in the way young students learn about robotics by developing origami-inspired robot technologies to rapidly, inexpensively and easily produce functional robots to match high-level specifications."
The project still has a ways to go before it's ready for prime-time; currently, researchers are focusing on the creation of an Application Programming Interface which will allow users to design and specify their own functions, along with algorithms to allow users to control the assembly and operational components of their robots. Together, these features would create a user-friendly programming environment, allowing enthusiasts to create and automatically fabricate new robots.
Currently, Mehta's team has receivewd around $10 million in funding from the National Science Foundation, in addition to being gifted with the "Ultra Affordable Educational Robot Project 2014" award.