Self-Assembling Printable Products Are Now A Reality


Self-Assembling Capacitive Robot Lamp

The innovation around 3D printing has been taking leaps since the concept became a household name, and the possibilities seem limitless. A team of researchers at Harvard University, led by Robert Wood, Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, has managed to develop a printable self-assembling lamp that could very well kickstarts the long awaited era of self-assembling products.

It would be wrong to say that the concept is brand new as we have seen some attempts to create self-assembling products before. The Harvard University team however has taken the whole thing a little further with their newly announced proof-of-concept. It is a monumental step towards a more intelligent way to deliver products that in the future could come to save both space and the environment in many ways.

The robot lamp is built up of several different materials, including shape-memory polymers, thin layers of copper, and layers of paper and foam, which can all be 3D printed, which makes it one of the most interesting innovations to come out of the 3D printing concept.

You don’t have to think for very long to understand that this has incredible potential and even though this robotic self-assembling lamp doesn’t have more elements than a mechanical switch and a capacitive touch sensor, it perfectly demonstrates just how far the 3D printing technology has come and where it is heading in the future. We are still a long way from seeing complex self-assembling products as that would take an insane amount of planning and ingenuity, but this proof-of-concept definitely proves that it is possible.

The build itself is pretty simple, and the light switch controls the electrical contacts while the capacitive sensor enables you to adjust the brightness of the LED. To simplify the build the researchers used regular double sided tape to keep the folded parts together, but in the future powerful magnets and even more complex and advanced locking mechanics can be used.

It should be said however that the self-assembling lamp is hooked up to an Arduino to enable the capacitive touch functions but with the rate of innovation around 3D printing it is not difficult to imagine that within the near future 3D printers will be able to print even simple Arduino circuits. Have a look at the video showing the self-assembling lamp fold itself into existence, it is pretty darn impressive!

Harvard University’s Self-Assembling Robot Lamp

Self-Assembling Capacitive Robot Lamp

Self-Assembling Capacitive Robot Lamp


Bit Rebels


Transformers Are Real: MIT Researchers Create Self-Assembling Robots


GIF of M-Blocks self-assembling robotsHave you ever, while watching Transformers, wished the shape shifting robots would appear in real life (minus the world domination struggle)? If so, a team at MIT is working on something that will be of some interest to you. Researchers at the school’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) are developing self-assembling and self-configuring robots. While these robots may not be as large as Optimus Prime and Megatron, they are set to accomplish great things.

Closeup of a disassembled M-BlockM-Blocks, as the robots are called, are cube-shaped robots able to change their geometry according to task. It’s the robots’ ability to adapt to their environment that makes them so special. “This is exciting because a robot designed for a single task has a fixed architecture, and that robot will perform the single task well, but it will perform poorly on a different task in a different environment,” Daniela Rus, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of CSAIL, said. “If we do not know ahead of time what the robot will have to do and when it will have to do it, it is better to consider making modular robots that can attain whatever shape is needed for the manipulation, navigation or sensing needs of the task.”

Each robot is able to move itself through three main parts: first, each M-Block is equipped with a tiny magnet on each of its eight faces. This allows the robots to attach to each other in between movements. Next, each robot contains a flywheel internally, which enables the sudden bursts of spinning, jumping, and even flying motions you can see in the video above. The powerful flywheel can reach up to 20,000 revolutions per minute, which allows M-Blocks to detach and reattach themselves to the surrounding robots in any formation that is needed. Finally, the edges of each M-Block contain magnets mounted like rolling pins. When an M-Block begins to rotate, its face magnet loses contact while its edge magnet rotates to from a very strong bond with the edge of the adjacent cube. “There’s a point in time when the cube is essentially flying through the air,” said Kyle Gilpin, a postdoc working on the project. “And you are depending on the magnets to bring it into alignment when it lands. That’s something that’s totally unique to this system.”

Self-Assembling Robots at MIT

Right now, the researchers control the robots’ movement through commands sent by a radio. In the future, however, the team plans to install the algorithms on the robots themselves so the M-Blocks can choose appropriate movements autonomously.

In continued work, the MIT team plans to build an “army” of 100 cubes, each of which can move in any direction. “We want hundreds of cubes, scattered randomly across the floor, to be able to identify each other, coalesce, and autonomously transform into a chair, or a ladder, or a desk, on demand,” Romanishin said. Future applications could include bridge or building repairs during emergencies, raising and reconfiguring scaffolding for building projects, assembling into furniture and heavy equipment as needed. One of the main benefits of the robots can work in conditions that are inaccessible to humans, and that they can work in flexible ways. “In the vast majority of other modular systems, an individual module cannot move on its own,” Gilpin said. “If you drop one of these along the way, or something goes wrong, it can rejoin the group, no problem.”

The quest to build self-assembling robots is not new. Such a simple design as that found in M-Blocks, however, is innovative. “We wanted a simpler approach that uses fewer actuators, fewer moving parts and was easier to implement on a lot of different robots,” John Romanishin, a research scientist at CSAIL and the dreamer behind the project. The few parts that make up M-Blocks will make it simpler for engineers, in the future, to design the robots in miniature.

the M-Block researchers talking around a table

The small and elegant M-Blocks are set to deepen humans’ ability to interact with the world around us. “It’s one of those things that you kick yourself for not thinking of,” said Hod Lipson, a robotics researcher at Cornell University and a colleague of Rus. “It’s a low-tech solution to a problem that people have been trying to solve with extraordinarily high-tech approaches.”

Images via MIT. GIF via Co.Design