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3D-Printed Robots With Shock-Absorbing Skins

By MIT News

October 5, 2016

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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a new technique for three-dimensionally (3D) printing soft materials.

Called "programmable viscoelastic material" (PVM), the technique can be used to program every part of a 3D-printed object to the exact level of stiffness and elasticity desired.

The team says the soft materials have the potential to make robots safer and more precise in their movements.

The researchers used the technique to outfit a cube robot--which moves by bouncing--with shock-absorbing "skins" that use less than half of the energy that would normally be transferred to the ground. Working with a standard 3D printer, the researchers used a solid, a liquid, and a flexible rubber-like material called TangoBlack+ to print both the cube and its skins.

"It's hard to customize soft objects using existing fabrication methods, since you need to do injection molding or some other industrial process," says MIT postdoctoral researcher Jeffrey Lipton.

The team thinks the PVM technique could improve the durability of everything from drones and phones to shoes and helmets.

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