It so happens that 3D printing is a wonderful application for the discipline of robotics. It provides designers with the freedom to add new functionality to their creations. That, and end users can customize a robot for their specific uses.
The first section of this article is a round-up of the most impressive and advanced 3D printed robot projects from around the world. Ranging from humanoid robots to four-legged robots to even insectoid automatons, the field of robotics is booming thanks to additive manufacturing.
In the second section of this article, we cover some of the more modest — yet still impressive — 3D printed robot projects that you can try at home. You’ll need the right tools and bill of materials to make them, as detailed in each project, but the thing they all have in common are 3D printed components.
All hail our new 3D printed robot overlords!
These are the most advanced 3D printed robots developed so far, with technological breakthroughs and designs only made possible through a combination of 3D modeling software and additive manufacturing.
Devised by researchers at the University of Tokyo, Kengoro is an advanced 3D printed robot that’s utterly unique. How? It sweats. Specifically, it has a cooling system that mimics a human sweat gland. So when doing a strenuous physical like activity push-ups, for example, it perspires to cool itself down.
A creation like Kenjaro is only possible thanks to additive manufacturing. With 108 motors, the robot needs an efficient cooling system. But adding another mechanical part inside the robot also means adding more mass and weight. Not desirable if you want to keep your machine lean and mean.
The solution lies in Kengoro’s frame, which is constructed from selectively laser sintered aluminum powder. By altering the energy density of the laser during fabrication, the permeability of the metal can be customized with areas of both low and high permeability. In effect, seamless metal components with microchannels embedded in them through which water can flow.
The field of soft robotics are having quite a few Eureka moments thanks to additive manufacturing. This advanced 3D printed robot takes the form of an octopus. The Octobot has no rigid components, and its body is composed from 3D printed silicone.
How does the Octobot even move? The answer is gas. As in, breaking wind. Instead of electricity or batteries, this 3D printed robot is powered by a pneumatic system; a chemical reaction occurs when fuel meets the platinum ink, creating a gas that makes the soft robot move its tentacles.
These small 3D printed robots look and behave just like real ants. Except the BionicANT is a little bit bigger, and it’s probably not interested in your jam sandwiches when you go on a picnic.
Developed by German company Festo, “ANT” here refers to “Autonomous Networking Technology”. Each BionicANT has a camera and sensors that enables it to locate an object and communicate with other BionicANTS in the immediate vicinity.
The 3D printed robots can then team up, coordinate their actions, and move objects together. It’s pretty impressive. And a little frightening. But mostly impressive.
Did you think that scarecrows were the height of bird aversion technology? Think again, straw-man.
This is a 3D printed robot bird from Dutch company Clear Flight Solutions. It’s designed to keep air space clear of birds in flight critical areas, like an airport runway, by frightening away their live counterparts.
These 3D printed robirds are effectively drones that can fly by flapping their wings, and are camouflaged to appear like real birds. Additive manufacturing has proven especially useful here, providing design freedom to engineers who seek to bring complex ideas to life.
InMoov is a life-size 3D printed robot created by Gael Langevin, a French sculptor and designer. This automaton is a spectacular achievement, not just because of its size but also because of its fluid and graceful articulation, right down to its fingertips.
The open source project is envisaged as a development platform for students, makers and academics. The hand of this model, which first appeared in 2012, also carries the distinction of being the first open source 3D printed hand prosthetic.
This is another open source 3D printed robot, ASPIR, which stands for “Autonomous Support and Positive Inspiration Robot”.
This humanoid automaton is highly maneuverable. It uses six supersize servos per leg, four high-torque standard servos for each arm, five metal-gear micro servos for each hand, and two additional standard servos for the head’s pan/tilt mechanism.
Each of the 90 parts that make up it’s body will take roughly 300 hours of 3D printing. You can find the full tutorial and bill of materials over on Instructables.
Scared of insects and arachnids? Then you may not be too fond of this 3D printed robot that resembles a spider. The Xpider is a 3D printed robot made by Roboeve, a team of designers based in China.
A key feature is the camera mounted to its head; being able to scuttle and crawl through difficult to reach places, Xpider can transmit footage back to its operator. The lightweight shell is 3D printed, developed over the course of multiple iterations.
Ready for more creepy crawlies? The T8X is a 3D printed robot that looks and moves like a giant man-eating spider. It can move its legs independently. It can communicate with other 3D printed robots. And it can even dance a salsa.
Made by Robugtix, the T8X is cabable of fine movements, and is programmable and customizable. With 26 servo motors inside the robot and powered by a proprietary Bigfoot Robotics Engine, there are many possibilities for the types of bio-inspired, realistic movements that the robot can make.
The PLEN2 is another open source 3D printed robotics project. It began life as a Kickstarter campaign, created by Natsuo Akazawa, which delivered on its promise of a robot kit consisting of control boards, servomotors and accessories that you can put together yourself.
You don’t need any technical knowledge and special tools. What you need to build this robot is just a screwdriver. Once assembled, PLEN2 is approximately 20 cm tall, and thanks to it’s 18 joints it is highly maneuverable. You can even control this 3D printed robot using a smartphone or PC.
In terms of features, PLEN2 can walk, dance or play. Perhaps not so advanced compared to other projects on this list, but 3D printing plays a vital part in making these kinds of projects more broadly accessible and affordable. Buy one here.
JD is a 3D printed robot kit devised by Ez-Robot in Canada. This humanoid robot boasts 16 degrees of freedom with its servo motors. It’s capable of walking, tumbling, dancing, and playing piano (sort of). It also has a camera in its head that can be used for vision recognition to track color, motion, glyphs, QR codes, faces and more.
The “eyes” consist of 18 RGB LEDs that can be programmed and animated. The grippers are powered by metal geared servo motors, allowing your robot to interact with soft, light objects like colored foam balls. The included EZ-Builder Software lets you to create movements, programs even and personalized mobile apps, and the body parts are 3D printable and customizable.
Rongzhong Li is an assistant professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, and creator of an open source 3D printed robot cat. After OpenCat was featured on IEEE Spectrum’s weekly roundup of robot videos, he’s been flooded with possibilities for the future development of his personal project.
On his Hackster page he explains that the project started in Summer 2016. Since then, the cat has gone through seven iterations, each one increasingly more complex. The latest one in the video dates from September 2017.
Currently, Li has two working models. A smaller one targeted at STEM education and the maker community that runs on an Arduino module. And a larger model with a Raspberry Pi for AI-enhanced perception. He’s looking for funds to evolve OpenCat into a collaborative project, and eventually a mass-produced product.
With a bit of soldering and wiring, these 3D printed robots are actually capable of movement like dancing or walking. They’re fantastic weekend projects, and thoroughly educational to boot.
SMARS is an acronym for “Screwless/Screwed Modular Robotic System”, a simple 3D printed robot designed for education and learning. The main features of SMARS are the minimal number of components; it can be assembled without the need for screws or soldering. Nor does it require glue or similar, and it’s very cheap to build.
Another attractive feature of SMARS is the modular design. Makers can mount different sensors and tools to this 3D printed robot, and design their own parts. Inventor Kevin Thomas is leading by example and released a huge number of mods he calls DLC for SMARS, including converting it into a quadruped or adding a shovel. Learn more here.
This is a four axis 3D printed robot arm that features a replaceable gripper, internal cable routing, and the vertical axis supported by bearings.
It has been designed for educational purposes, providing a suitable platform for for exploring robotics, electronics, and programming.
Makers are invited to copy and modify the files, designing their own version, so long as they follow the original licence and provide attributions. Full details here.
Meet Bob. Bob’s a bipedal machine. As such, he’s made for walking. If you’re a beginner dipping a toe into the world of automatons, this 3D printed robot is the project for you. Bob uses four motors to move his legs. All the movements are controlled by a microcontroller that can be re-programmed via USB. All the parts are common and easy to find.
Kame is a 3D printed robot that takes the form of a little quadruped. Based on an ESP8266 WiFi module, it has 8 servos (two per leg) and a small LiPo battery. It can be programmed with Arduino, and to see it marching towards you with steely purpose is both impressive and terrifying. For more information, full FreeCAD sources and source code, you can visit its GitHub repository.
This gnarly little humanoid is the Poppy Project, an open source platform for the creation, use and sharing of interactive 3D printed robots. Created by Matthieu Lapeyre, Poppy is an advanced 3D printed robot that’s suitable for a variety of applications, not least of which is learning about robotics and computer science. And making it 3D printable helps to make it even more accessible to a classroom or workshop.
Poppy is described as having “bio-inspired morphology”, with legs designed for bidpedal locomotion, a multi-articulated trunk, and human proportions. The humanoid weighs 3.5 kilograms and stands 83 centimeters tall. It has 25 actuators, with an option to add an LCD screen and two wide-angle cameras.
The Drogerdy V2 is a modular tank platform, a 3D printed robot where you can dock either an Arduino, Raspberry Pi or Intel Galileo and start programming straight away. It’s also possible to add additional functionality such as a camera in the nose, or a “head” to provide protection for its electronic brain. Learn more here.
Look at that beaming smile. This 3D printed robot is the Apogee V2, and he’s an upright balancing bot wearing a Raspberry Pi for a hat. The little stepper motors used for mobility aren’t the nippiest around, but the battery life is reportedly impressive.
This second iteration can make use of the Adafruit ribbon cable system for the Raspberry Pi, so that swapping out its computer brain is easier and safer. Plus, the wheels now have better traction on carpet which allow the bot to move a little faster. Full details can be found here.
Here we have another 3D printed robot that is capable of upright balancing. The B-robot EVO is Arduino-based, completely open source, and makes a great weekend project. Equipped with only two wheels, B-robot maintains its balance by using internal sensors and driving the motors. You can also control your 3D printed robot using your smartphone, making him move or spin. Learn more here.
The Microbit is a great little microcomputer, as most schoolkids in the UK will attest. It’s been integrated into the national school curriculum since 2016 and is a big boost for science and engineering in schools. This 3D printed robot is powered by a Microbit, and it takes the form of a rover with flexible tracks. It’s surprisingly agile.
The assembly requires nine 3D printed parts. The rover tracks should be fabricated with a flexible filament like Ninjaflex. Integrating the Microbit will require you to drill through the board and also solder some parts. Full details here.
Canadian-based Explore Making have released the IMA Juno as an introduction to robotics, Arduino coding, and 3D printing. Follow Juno’s step-by-step instructions and you will learn about basic wiring, LEDs, Servo motors, and introductory Arduino code.
Moreover, Juno’s 3D printable parts are optimized for success on any desktop 3D printer. If you’re looking for an in-depth 3D printing project, then Juno is a great place to start. More details here.
The cute little fella is called Zowi, a bipedal 3D printed robot aimed at children. It was developed by Spanish telecommunications company BQ, which also have a 3D printing division. While it’s marketed as an educational toy, Zowi can do some impressive things once he’s programmed to walk, dance, and move around obstacles. It’s available as a complete kit, or you can go the DIY route and 3D print some of the components yourself.
When it comes to building things, Randy Sarafan is sort of a maker legend. He founded the Instructables Design Studio, offers 280 Instructables, wrote the books “Simple Bots” and 62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer.
His untitled 3D printed robot is fairly easy to print and assemble over a weekend. It is programmable and can walk. You just need a 3D printer, servos, an Arduino, a 9-volt battery, some nuts and bolts – and four pencils.
License: The text of "2018’s Most Advanced 3D Printed Robots & Best DIY Projects" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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