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3D printing fully functional robots

Researchers at MIT developed a new system to print functional, custom-made devices and robots without human intervention.

Previously, 3D printers were able to create all kinds of objects, but lacked the ability to fabricate more complex devices that are essentially ready to go right out of the printer.

Called LaserFactory, the researchers’ single system uses a three-ingredient recipe that lets users create structural geometry, print traces, and assemble electronic components like sensors and actuators. The system works with two parts that work in harmony: a software toolkit that allows users to design custom devices, and a hardware platform that fabricates them.

Using the software toolkit, the user can design their device, for instance a drone. They place components from a parts library, and draw on circuit traces, the copper or aluminium lines printed on a circuit board that allow electricity to flow between electronic components. Then, the design is finalised in the 2D editor.

LaserFactory automatically cuts the geometry, dispenses silver for circuit traces, picks and places components and finally cures the silver to make the traces conductive. The device is then fully functional.

Image: MIT