A new project, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), aims to revolutionise the way in which robots are designed and produced. Researchers hope to enable the general public to devise and print their own customised robots within the space of a day.
The programme, named 'An Expedition in Computing for Compiling Printable Programmable Machines' and funded by a $10m grant from the United States' National Science Foundation (NSF), will run for five years, and is intended to speed up and make accessible the process of designing and producing robots. Researchers from MIT, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University, will work together to facilitate the production of specialised robots by ordinary citizens.
"This research envisions a whole new way of thinking about the design and manufacturing of robots, and could have a profound impact on society," said Professor Daniela Rus from the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), who is leading the project. "We believe that it has the potential to transform manufacturing and to democratise access to robots."
The platform envisioned by the team would allow an individual to identify a domestic problem, purchase an appropriate blueprint and readily available constituent materials, and create a customised, robotic device capable of solving that problem. Within the space of a single day, the robot could be printed, assembled, programmed, and ready for use.
"This project aims to dramatically reduce the development time for a variety of useful robots, opening the doors to potential applications in manufacturing, education, personalised healthcare, and even disaster relief," said Rob Wood, an associate professor from Harvard University.
At present, the team is focusing on four research areas; namely developing an application programming interface for simple function specification and design, writing algorithms to allow for control of the assembly of a device and its operations, creating a user-friendly programming language environment, and designing new, programmable materials to allow for automatic fabrication of robots. The researchers have already prototyped two machines for designing, printing and programming. The first is an insect-like robot capable of exploring contaminated areas and the second is a gripper to aid those with limited mobility.