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Engineering student creates smart, disposable 3-D printed robot

3-D Printed Robot

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(June 22, 2015) -- Here’s a way to expedite that apocalyptic scenario in which robots take over the world: 3-D print the robots. Electrical and computer engineering student Eric Wineman and some of his fellow students at UTSA had a similar idea, not to bring about the end of the world but for the purpose of making a quick, inexpensive and destructible robot to be used in an emergency situation.

“We figured a lot of robots are novel nowadays,” he said. “They look cool but they can’t do a whole lot yet.”

Wineman is part of the SMART program that allows him to pursue his master’s degree in electrical engineering while also working as a civilian for the military, where he uses 3-D printers daily. While a student earlier this year in Electrical and computer engineering professor Mo Jamshidi’s intelligent robotics class, Wineman and his classmates had the idea to use his experience with 3-D printing to create an intelligent, disposable robot.

“The first major advantage is cost,” he said. “In the process of manufacturing a part, you send off a drawing, get it made and hope it turns out right. With 3-D printing, the trial-and-error process is much quicker.”

Wineman’s robot has the ability to find a valve, then open and close it. This could be useful, he said, in a dangerous environment such as a boiler room with high-pressure pipes.

“Say one bursts,” he said. “You could have the robot go in there instead of risking a person’s life.”

Overall, the robot took about 100 hours to print in Jamshidi’s lab. Even though that’s not exactly lightning fast, Wineman said, it’s advantageous because students can watch the results as they form and dispose of failed parts quickly.

“3-D printing is a new approach to prototyping,” Jamshidi said. “It makes prototypes very inexpensive.”

Now, with one semester left at UTSA, Wineman is working on adding voice recognition capability to the robot, so a person can call out to it for help. Jamshidi, meanwhile, is looking forward to expanding his robotics laboratory in the fall, and expects his students to do much more work with 3-D printing.

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