Scientists predict robot revolution

An Ikea-like robotics revolution could see DIY devices being built for a wide range of functions, scientists predict.

An Ikea-like robotics revolution could see DIY devices being built for a wide range of functions, scientists predict.

Researchers in the US have launched a project aimed at developing desk-top technology that will make household robots as commonplace as flatpack furniture.

The key to the process is 3-D printing, the automated manufacture of plastic and metal machine components from a set of instructions.

Scientists hope to create a platform that will enable people to choose from a “library” of robot designs.

Once a particular problem is identified, the householder would choose from a selection of robot blueprints.

The programme would allow a fully functioning customised robot to be assembled and ready for action within 24 hours.

“Our goal is to develop technology that enables anyone to manufacture their own customised robot,” said Professor Vijay Kumar, one of the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania. “This is truly a game-changer.”

Currently it takes years to design, produce and programme a fully functioning robot. The process is costly, involving hardware and software design, machine learning and vision, and advanced programming techniques.

The new technology would fully automate production, allowing individuals to build functioning robots from materials as easily accessible as a sheet of paper.

A $10m grant from the US National Science Foundation is funding the five-year project.

Team leader Professor Daniela Rus, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), said: “This research envisions a whole new way of thinking about the design and manufacturing of robots, and could have a profound impact on society.

“We believe that it has the potential to transform manufacturing and to democratise access to robots.”

So far prototype machines have been used to produce an insect-like robot for exploring contaminated areas, and a gripper designed to help disabled people.

“It’s really exciting to think about the kind of impact this work could have on the general population, beyond just a few select people who work in robotics,” said Dr Wojciech Matusik, also from CSAIL

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