A researcher at WPI is working on developing robots that can be printed in 3D for search-and-rescue operations.

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At Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), scientist Markus Nemitz has been awarded a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation. With a total of $599,815, Nemitz aims to develop a groundbreaking class of affordable 3D printable soft robots. These robots have the potential to revolutionize search-and-rescue operations by navigating challenging environments that traditional robots are unable to access. Soft robots, made from highly flexible materials, are capable of mimicking the movements of living organisms. This makes them ideal for missions involving swimming, crawling, climbing, and diving through confined spaces.

Nemitz’s research will focus on creating small and flexible 3D printed robots with integrated fluidic circuits. These robots can be quickly produced and customized to fit specific disaster conditions. To test their effectiveness, the robots will be evaluated in a miniaturized model based on parts of the Tham Luang cave in Thailand. This cave gained worldwide attention in 2018 when 12 youth soccer players and their coach were trapped by flooding.

The project, which commenced on August 1, 2021, is expected to run until July 31, 2028. Nemitz, an assistant professor in WPI’s Department of Robotics Engineering, believes that these soft robots have the potential to significantly aid rescue efforts in various hazardous or inaccessible areas. Examples include earthquake debris, flooded regions, and nuclear accident sites.

Nemitz plans to develop new principles for robot design and fabrication. By combining mechanical intelligence, 3D printed fluidic circuits, and flexible electronics, he aims to reduce the computing capacity needed for robots to adapt to unexpected conditions. The movement of fluid within flexible channels in the robot will be used to convert external stimuli into commands that control the robot’s functions.

To achieve this, Nemitz will develop 3D printed robots with integrated fluidic state machines. These state machines will respond to fluidic sensors and control fluidic actuators. The project will also focus on creating a new class of complementary fluidic gates and electro-fluidic memory elements. Additionally, the robots will utilize flexible and stretchable electronics capable of withstanding dynamic deformation. These electronics will be integrated into the robots using conductive inks and elastomers. Their role will be limited to selecting fluidic functionalities, functionalizing fluidic sensors, and programming fluidic memory.

Commercial 3D printers and elastomeric filaments will be utilized to produce the robots. The feasibility of designing and 3D printing the robots, as well as their ability to reach designated targets within the lab-based model cave system, will be thoroughly evaluated.

Nemitz believes that these robots, equipped with sensors such as microphones and cameras, will greatly enhance the capabilities of rescuers, particularly during natural disasters. He emphasizes the need for continual innovation and technological advancements to ensure a dynamic and rapid response to emergencies. Robotics plays a crucial role in this development.

In addition to the research project, Nemitz plans to launch a hands-on robotics summer camp exclusively for female high school students in Worcester County. This initiative aligns with WPI’s effort to introduce a new undergraduate course on 3D printable robots.

It’s worth noting that the use of 3D printing in robotics is not a new concept. In February 2021, Markforged, a leading manufacturer of metal and carbon fiber 3D printers, was part of a collaborative effort to develop fully autonomous robots capable of exploring underground environments during planetary exploration. Their 3D printers allowed the CoSTAR team to make quick iterations and fixes to their robot during the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Subterranean Challenge (DARPA), enhancing their performance throughout the competition.

Furthermore, NASA researchers have also tapped into the potential of 3D printing in robotics. As early as 2019, they utilized this technology for their projects. The marriage of 3D printing and robotics opens up endless possibilities for innovation and advancement in various fields.

The research project led by Markus Nemitz at WPI has the potential to revolutionize search-and-rescue operations. The development of low-cost, customizable, and 3D printable soft robots could save countless lives in emergency situations. With their ability to navigate challenging environments, these robots not only offer a new level of accessibility but also enhance the capabilities of human rescuers. The integration of 3D printing and robotics continues to push the boundaries of innovation, paving the way for a safer and more efficient future.

This blog post explores the exciting potential of soft robotics in the field of space exploration and assembly. Chuck Sullivan and Jack Fitzpatrick, two talented interns at NASA’s Langley Research Center, have used innovative 3D printing technology to develop a crucial component for soft robotic actuators.

These soft robotic actuators are instrumental in animating and controlling a robot’s moving parts, making them an essential tool for space exploration missions. Through their work, Sullivan and Fitzpatrick have demonstrated the viability of using soft robotics in this challenging and demanding field.

In recent years, 3D printing has revolutionized manufacturing processes, allowing for the creation of intricate and customized components. This technology has been particularly beneficial in the development of soft robotic actuators, as it enables the production of complex and flexible structures that mimic the natural movements of living organisms.

By employing 3D printing techniques, Sullivan and Fitzpatrick have been able to create an actuator that is lightweight, durable, and highly adaptable. This breakthrough in soft robotics paves the way for more sophisticated and agile robots that can navigate and manipulate their environment with greater efficiency.

The implications of this research extend beyond space exploration. Soft robotics also holds promise in various industries, such as healthcare, where flexible and delicate movements are required. For example, soft robotic prosthetic limbs could offer greater dexterity and comfort for amputees.

As the field of soft robotics continues to advance, it is essential to stay informed about the latest developments in this exciting area. Subscribing to the 3D Printing Industry newsletter and following their social media channels is an excellent way to keep up-to-date with the latest news, trends, and breakthroughs in 3D printing and additive manufacturing.

Moreover, if you are passionate about the potential of additive manufacturing and want to kickstart your career in this industry, be sure to explore the job opportunities available on 3D Printing Jobs. This platform provides a selection of roles within the additive manufacturing field, offering a chance to contribute to cutting-edge innovation.

In conclusion, the work of Chuck Sullivan and Jack Fitzpatrick at NASA’s Langley Research Center highlights the immense potential of soft robotics in space exploration and assembly. Their use of 3D printing technology to develop a key component for soft robotic actuators signifies a significant breakthrough in the field. As we continue to explore the possibilities of soft robotics, it is crucial to stay informed and engaged with the latest advancements in this exciting field.

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