Everyone loves robots, we are no different and in a way, 3D printers are robots themselves. Today I’m going to look into the world of 3D printed robotics – what’s currently happening and where it might go in the future.
There are a few reasons why 3D printing is effective in the field of robots, but by far the biggest is just the fact you can do it from home and for a reasonably low price. 3D printing gives you the power to produce your own products, you could even earn a living from it. A second reason being that you can very quickly prototype your designs. You might hear this often about 3D printing and it really is an important benefit of the technology. To go along with prototyping is customisation – you could make almost anything you could imagine (assuming its printable). The electronics from these can also be fairly easily stripped out and re-purposed into other things.
How can I make my own robots?
Firstly to keep expectations at reasonable levels, you are not going to be printing an entire robot at home, at least on a normal 3D printer – if you plan to build a robot you will need to source the electronics elsewhere. The first places to start looking for designs, in my opinion should be Thingiverse and Instructables. I say this as I’ve used them both a lot myself, so if you know a better source then feel free to tell us in the comments. A lot of the robot designs out there on the Internet are open source – meaning they are freely available, and some will come with a BOM (bill of materials) with good sources for parts. The recent popularity with homemade robots is closely tied with the success of Arduino/Raspberry Pi which has given people the opportunity to be creative with electronics without massive costs.
RC cars, drones and quadcopters seem to be quite prevalent on sites like Thingiverse. It’s pretty clear why – people love customised toys. Regardless of your political stance on homemade spy drones it’s hard to deny they are pretty cool. The idea of a robot for a lot of people is the stereotypical walking, talking, humanoid robot that plans to destroy civilisation, so of course there are plenty of people making these kinds of things! Just by browsing Thingiverse you are bound to find some interesting stuff, like this Robot called InMoov made by hairygael which looks rather unnerving, but is a very impressive project. Another unusual, totally pointless yet interesting project is this 3D printed walking robot which is designed to show how easy making a robot can be.
You may ask, are there any actual useful 3D printed robots available? This depends on how you look at it. There are people doing interesting stuff like this prosthetic arm. Maybe not quite so useful, the Plotclock is a weirdly cute robot that tells the time.
Can 3D printed robots be utilised in industry?
I’m not convinced that 3D printed robots will see widespread use outside of hobbyist projects. Robotics in car manufacturing, for example, need to be extremely precise and fast which is something that just isn’t there yet – of course there have been some attempts as you can see in the video below!
Going forward I think home made robotics are only going to become more popular as access to 3D printing gradually increases. I think there is a lot of knowledge to be gained from this, and it might even push younger children into a career in engineering.
If you know of any more interesting robots that are made utilising 3D printing, or any other thoughts then you can leave them in the comments below.