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UCLA Scientists Can Print Robots in One Go

Published on June 21, 2022 by Madeleine P.
UCLA 3d prints robots

On several occasions, additive manufacturing has been used to build robots, in part because of the design freedom it offers. However, in most cases, robots are printed in several parts before being assembled once all the parts have been designed. But this assembly stage may soon be coming to an end. Recently, a team of researchers at the University of California (UCLA) developed a new single-step all-in-one 3D printing method that allows robots to be printed in one go. To do this, the scientists turned to metamaterials, which are materials that have electromagnetic properties not found in a natural environment.

Capable of crawling, jumping and sensing the elements around them, the UCLA robots are able to evolve in their immediate environment. Xiaoyu Zheng, principal investigator of the study, reflects on the value of this innovation, “We envision that this design and printing methodology of smart robotic materials will help realize a class of autonomous materials that could replace the current complex assembly process for making a robot. With complex motions, multiple modes of sensing and programmable decision-making abilities all tightly integrated, it’s similar to a biological system with the nerves, bones and tendons working in tandem to execute controlled motions.”

3D printed piezoelectric materials (photo credits: UCLA)

The Advantages of UCLA’s Robots

The main reason the researchers were able to achieve such an application is the piezoelectric nature of the metamaterials. Made in the form of a lattice, these materials can change geometry and move when excited by an electric field, thus transforming electrical energy into kinetic energy. UCLA scientists say they have successfully designed three “meta-bots” using 3D printing. While one can avoid certain obstacles, the second can walk and jump and the third is able to escape contact impacts.

Eventually, the team behind the project plans to apply this innovation to the medical sector. Specifically, they want to print small robots from metamaterials that can administer drugs in specific areas of the body. In addition, these meta-robots could also be used to probe dangerous or simply inaccessible areas in order to identify certain environments.  You can download the research article HERE.

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*Cover Photo Credits: UCLA

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