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Robot 3D Printer Makes Its Own Tools

From the Printware Blog on Friday 25th May 2012 in 3D Printing

If you're plagued by hellish visions of a Terminator-like future in which humanity is either enslaved or wiped out by machines, the robotics team at ETH Zurich probably won't be top of your Christmas card list. In a burst of insanity (or genius, depending on your viewpoint), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, or ETH Zurich, has created a robot that can manufacture its own tools with an on-board 3D printer.

You might want to hold off on running for the hills or making a desperate last stand just yet, though, as the technology is still fairly limited at the moment. The robot builds up objects layer by layer using Hot Melt Adhesive (HMA) – hot glue, in other words – as a substrate, squirting it through what is essentially a glue gun. The process is painfully slow and the finished product is crude to say the least but the concept is sound and demonstrates the potential of the technology.

A video released by ETH shows the robot making a cup and then using it to transfer water from one container to another. Hardly earth-shattering stuff, especially given the limitations of HMA as a substrate and the fact that the whole sequence has to be programmed in advance. The process will undoubtedly become faster and more efficient but the next big breakthrough will come when the robot can decide for itself what tools it needs and this is what the team is now working on.

ETH and other robotics teams around the world will soon be developing robots that can analyse their environment, assess potential tasks, hazards or obstacles and build tools accordingly. Such machines would also be capable of repairing themselves, adding to or modifying their own functionality or even autonomously building other robots. Robots this sophisticated may be a way off yet but those hills are starting to look more and more inviting. 

by Anthony Morgan

Posted in 3D Printing

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