In a remarkable collaboration between ETH Zurich and the US-based startup Inkbit, the boundaries of 3D printing technology have been shattered. The research team achieved a groundbreaking milestone by simultaneously printing a robotic hand with bones, ligaments, and tendons.
This leap forward, documented in a Nature research journal, marks a significant advancement in 3D printing, challenging the conventional assembly of robotic structures. Unlike traditional methods of piecing together components after printing, each part of the robotic hand was crafted in unison, utilizing a novel laser-scanning technique. The researchers employed various polymers with differing softness and rigidity, creating a seamless integration of materials with elastic qualities.
Inkbit, a US startup affiliated with MIT, played a pivotal role in developing this technology, introducing a method to 3D print slow-curing plastics. In contrast to the prevalent use of fast-curing plastics, this innovation offers advantages such as increased durability and improved elastic properties. The ability to print layer-by-layer remains, but an integrated scanner continuously monitors the surface for irregularities, directing the system to transition to the next material type. This enhanced precision allows for the creation of objects with varying stiffness, catering to the unique needs of different industries.
Professor Robert Katzschmann from ETH Zurich underscores the advantages of soft-material robots, emphasizing their reduced risk of injury when working with humans and their suitability for handling fragile goods. This breakthrough facilitates the production of human-like appendages and opens avenues for manufacturing objects that absorb noise and vibrations.
Inkbit plans to commercialize this cutting-edge technology by offering newly-designed printers to manufacturers. Additionally, the startup aims to provide complex 3D-printed objects utilizing this technology to smaller entities, showcasing the potential for widespread application in various sectors.
As the integration of 3D printing and robotics reaches new heights, the future holds exciting possibilities for the development of advanced, functional structures that mimic and enhance the capabilities of the human hand.