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MIT to deliver printable household robots

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What if you could go to a store, pick out a design for a robot to help with chores - and have it built in a matter of hours?

What if you could go to a store, pick out a design for a robot to help with your household chores -- and have it built in a matter of hours?

That is the vision of the team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A five-year, $10 million project to bring advanced robotics to the general public has just begun -- and aims to bring together blueprint-based robotic design and machines capable of assisting in daily tasks to the wider economy.

"This research envisions a whole new way of thinking about the design and manufacturing of robots, and could have a profound impact on society," said Daniela Rus, MIT professor and leader of the project.

"We believe that it has the potential to transform manufacturing and to democratize access to robots."

The scheme, 'An Expedition in Computing Printable Programmable Machines', is currently in its fledgling stage. Bringing together MIT, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, the $10 million grant to fund the project was received from the National Science Foundation.

The ambitious scheme wants the average person to be able to design, customize, print and assemble a specialized robot in a matter of hours.

Having trouble reaching the top corners of the wardrobe to dust? Print off an insect-type to do the grafting for you.

Designing and manufacturing robots is a lengthy and expensive process, and is therefore generally limited to research or large manufacturers. The MIT's project will automate the process, and use advanced 3D printing technology to produce functional devices through materials including plastic and paper.

"Our vision is to develop an end-to-end process; specifically, a compiler for building physical machines that starts with a high level of specification of function, and delivers a programmable machine for that function using simple printing processes," Rus says.

By reducing the development time for robots that could be useful around an average household, the researchers hope to eventually allow an individual to head to a store, select a blueprint from a catalog of robotic designs, and have a fully-functional robot within 24 hours.

This overhaul of robotic design could result in mass-production of robots useful in manufacturing, education, personalized healthcare and potentially disaster relief.

Currently, the team have developed two prototypes for design, print and programming. These are an insect-based 6-legged robot that could be used for exploring a contaminated area (such as your house for gas leaks) and a gripping claw that could be used by people with limited mobility.

Rus envisions this project to become the 'next level' app store, and to revolutionize how we view robotics. The two prototypes cost approximately $100 each, and just over an hour to build.

Image credit: MIT

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure