Tufts Robotics Lab Uses Connex Technology to Create Unique Robot

Published 02/23/2015

By Paul Concannon | 3D Printing Consultant

Tufts University Tests a 3D Printed Caterpillar Robot"Without our Connex, this project would have been impossible", said Vishesh Vikas one of the PhD. Mechanical engineering students at the Tufts Robotics Lab. Using a team of electrical and mechanical engineers, they designed their robot using a digital blend of Tango Plus and Vero White Plus to create a robot with different material properties throughout the design.

In their initial prototypes, the team used a pliable metal to create the body of their robot.  Soon, they found out that the material properties were not fitting their specific needs. The robot moves similarly to a caterpillar, by contracting and expanding the flexible rubber body to inch forward. Programmed embedded microcontrollers are used to run the miniature brushless motors inside the robot that allow for the expansion and contraction.  In order to create some grip while moving, a rigid material from the Vero family of 3D printing materials is blended with the flexible rubber material, enabling the robot to move and even climb up steep grades.  Further development will hopefully allow this robot to climb vertical walls and even crawl across ceilings!

Tufts University Used their Connex 500 to create a one of a kind flexible robotHe clearly pointed out that in the eighteen month development period he has done hundreds of different iterations over night until he got it right. Vikas said that without the rubber like transparent print capabilities of the Connex, this project would have been nearly impossible and the cost over runs would have been overwhelming.  He also stated that the schedule for this project would have been spread out over three years instead of a few months.

When asked about the possible applications of this unique robot, he mentioned the Department of Defense for portable camera applications to protect infantry in battle, possible unmanned search and rescue missions, intelligence gathering, and the list goes on. The possibilites for a robot like this are limitless.

Tufts University uses both Polyjet and FDM technologies from Stratasys in almost every research program they do and are delighted with the flexibility, repeatability and overeall performance of both the machines and materials.

See the Robot in Action

For more information, check out the Tufts Soft Material Robotics YouTube channel here

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