Shock-absorbing skins to protect 3-D-printed robots

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​New York, Oct 6 (IANS) Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new method for 3-D printing soft materials that make robots safer and more precise in their movements.

The material could be used to improve the durability of drones, phones, shoes, helmets, and more, according to the researchers.

The team's "programmable viscoelastic material" (PVM) technique allows users to programme every single part of a 3D-printed object to the exact levels of stiffness and elasticity they want, depending on the task they need for it.

For example, after 3-D printing a cube robot that moves by bouncing, the researchers outfitted it with shock-absorbing "skins" that use only a fraction of the energy it transfers to the ground.

"That reduction makes all the difference for preventing a rotor from breaking off of a drone or a sensor from cracking when it hits the floor," said Daniela Rus from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory who oversaw the project.

"These materials allow us to 3-D print robots with visco-elastic properties that can be inputted by the user at print-time as part of the fabrication process," Rus noted in a statement released by MIT.

The skins also allow the robot to land nearly four times more precisely, suggesting that similar shock absorbers could be used to help extend the lifespan of delivery drones like the ones being developed by Amazon and Google.

The new paper will be presented at next week's IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in South Korea.

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