Researchers Develop an Interactive Tool for Building Custom Robots

A group of researchers at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University had developed an interactive tool for building custom robots from 3D-printed components and off-the-shelf actuators. The tool features an intuitive interface where users can drag-and-drop components chosen from a pre-existing library and learn which of them are compatible and where to place actuators for the best design.

When a robot is finished, the user is offered to run a simulation, thereby ensuring that everything is functioning as intended and providing an opportunity to tinker with problem areas.

Sample designs the research group built to showcase the feasibility of the new tool. Image courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University.

The tool was presented yesterday (30 May) at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2017) in Singapore by the robotics PhD student and co-author on the project Ruta Desai.

According to Stelian Coros, an Assistant Professor of Robotics at Carnegie Mellon who was also part of the development process, even though building robots is a tall order today, as they grow in popularity and become part of the fabric of daily life, many people will want to build their own custom designs, which spells out the need for simple and effective tools that are available to just about anyone.

To showcase their invention, the group designed a number of robots, two of which they later fabricated  – a wheeled robot with a manipulator arm that can hold a pen for drawing, and a four-legged “puppy” robot that can walk forward or sideways.

The tool simplifies the process of experimenting with different body proportions and motor configurations to build a fully-functional robot through iterative design – there’s even an auto-completion feature, which can generate viable combinations of individual parts by combing through all possible arrangements.

“Our work aims to make robotics more accessible to casual users,” Coros said. “This is important because people who play an active role in creating robotic devices for their own use are more likely to have positive feelings and higher quality interactions with them. This could accelerate the adoption of robots in everyday life.”


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