Robot makes its own custom tools

HMA printed parts on the fly

Robots are often designed with very specific tasks in mind. But what happens when you want a robot to be adaptable? Taking on the daunting task of coming up with a robot that can rise to whatever challenges it encounters, a team over at the Bio-Inspired Robotics Laboratory (ETH Zurich) have been making progress that could have serious implications in the world of digital manufacturing.

Utilizing Hot Melt Adhesive (the same HMA that we’ve all burnt our fingers with when using a handyman glue gun), their robot is able to create tools from scratch. It then makes use of these new devices to successfully complete tasks that it was otherwise unable to perform.

The following video gives an indication of where things are currently at. Although the process is similar to 3D printing, the team are quick to point out why they have chosen HMA rather than the usual thermoplastic materials. It all comes down to adaptability. A traditional 3D printed tool needs to be grasped/held/attached in some way. With HMA, the printed tool can be glued to the robot itself, and actually becomes a part of the machine. No need for graspers or fixing mechanisms.

It’s all early days still. The process takes a while, and there is still some way to go before it’s all automated. At the moment, each step is scripted as there is no perception process for the robot to analyse its environment and make decisions for itself. But as a proof-of-concept, this research is worth noting.

“…this technique could be used to create robots that can autonomously repair themselves, autonomously increase their own size and functionality, and even autonomously construct other robots.”

Click through to ETH Zurich to see how far we are from the inevitable robot uprising.

ETH Zurich via IEEE Spectrum

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