A new project led by MIT researchers envisions a future where you can three-dimensionally print your own custom robot at a "Robot Kinkos." These robots could help with household tasks or be great for keeping pets or children busy. And you don't need to be a robotics expert to make your own. A program with templates and task categories would help you design a robot to suit your needs.
The project, called "An Expedition in Computing Printable Programmable Machines," has recently received funding through a $10 million National Science Foundation grant. The MIT researchers will collaborate with Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania in the 5-year project, which hopes to deliver this on-demand robot printing capability by 2017.
Although there are plenty of 3D-printing setups these days, none of the existing systems can take into account specified functional needs to produce a robot to fulfill those needs, said MIT robotics engineer Daniela Rus.
Currently, the project is in its very early stages with only two prototype designs in the form of small insect-like helper robots. One is a 6-legged robot that can check your basement for gas leaks, while the other is a gripper claw that may be helpful for people with disabilities. They cost about $100 each and take 70 minutes to build.
Eventually you'll be able to select and customize from numerous robot templates using a software program and then go to a store after 24 hours to pick up the finished 3D-printed robot. Rus calls this an initiative to "democratize access to robots."