I was always jealous of Screech from Saved by the Bell. Sure, he was a nerd, but he also had Kevin, a robot he built and programmed himself that followed him around, helping him unsuccessfully mack on the ladies. (Apparently Lisa Turtle wasn’t one for artificial intelligence.) My years of envy can now be put to rest, however, thanks to MIT, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Why? Because now we can all build our own robots just like Screech.
Led by Daniela Rus, director of the Distributed Robotics Lab at MIT’s CSAIL, a team — comprised of researchers from the three schools — are embarking on a five-year project. The end goal is to develop a desktop technology that would make it possible for the average person to design, customize and print a specialized robot in a matter of hours.
Called “An Expedition in Computing for Compiling Printable Programmable Machines,” the project will automate the process of producing functional 3-D devices from something as accessible as a sheet of paper. (Just look at these printable, origami-like prototypes, and see how they work in the video below.)
“Our goal is to develop technology that enables anyone to manufacture their own customized robot. This is truly a game changer,” said Professor Vijay Kumar, who is leading the team from the University of Pennsylvania, in a press release. “It could allow for the rapid design and manufacture of customized goods, and change the way we teach science and technology in high schools.”
Even better, it could help around the house. Have a crawl space that’s hard to get into? All it would take is heading to your local printing store, selecting a blueprint from a library of robotic designs and then customizing an easy-to-use robotic device that could solve the problem and crawl into the space for you. The robot would then be printed, assembled and programmed for action within 24 hours. What could be easier?
And, what could be cooler? Once you check out these robots, you’ll agree: Nothing.