ETH Zurich, Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have developed an interactive design system that allows casual users to quickly create 3D printable robots.
The novel approach automates tedious parts of the design process while providing ample room for customization of morphology, proportions, gait and movement patterns.
The technical core of the framework is an efficient optimization-based solution that generates stable motions for legged robots of arbitrary designs. An intuitive set of editing tools allows users to interactively explore the space of feasible designs and study the relationship between morphological features and the resulting motions.
From the look of things, using the software is alarmingly easy. The user can load an initial, skeletal description of the robot and the system creates an initial geometry and places a motor at every joint. The user can then edit the robot’s structure, adding or removing motors, or adjusting its position and orientation.
Users can give complex movement goals like walking forward, walking sideways or turning. An optimization algorithm translates these commands into objectives. It then computes motor trajectories in order to satisfy these requests while preserving locomotive stability. The duration of stance and swing phases for all legs and their relative order of motion can also be controlled. This information is displayed as a time dependent graph that can be easily edited.
Furthermore, the system allows users to control the overall motion style, enabling them to create characteristic walking motions that convey personality and style. The structure of the robot can also be changed by editing the position and orientation of the joints or by adding and removing motors.
Once you’re happy with how things look, the final step is to generate 3D geometry for all of your robot’s body parts, including motor connectors. The software takes into account what kind of printer you’re using and what materials you’ve chosen: for example, if you’re using a MakerBot or something else with a filament material, the software will use infill for strength, but if you have a laser sintering setup, the software will change to a much more efficient truss structure.
The researchers tested their algorithm by building a diverse set of robots with different morphology and motion styles. They found that the overall motions of the prototypes were consistent with the behaviors predicted by their simulation. The team is now trying to enable more options for creativity on part of the end user.
Image and video courtesy of Disney Research