Published: Nov. 11, 2022

Robert MacCurdy, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Automated Design and Fabrication of Multimaterial Soft Robots

Current electromechanical design practice is predicated on the exercise of expert-level judgement through an interactive and iterative design and fabrication process that requires skilled humans at every step. This approach doesn't scale because it is labor intensive, and therefore biases robots toward longer-lasting, more general-purpose (and expensive) designs in order to justify the development and fabrication costs. Though appropriate in some cases, not all applications are well-served by this process. Many robot applications might be better-served by rapidly-built special-purpose or single-use machines, but automated design and fabrication tools will be critical to control costs, accelerate development, and be responsive to application needs. The overall goal is to make electromechanical systems (robots) so easy to design and fabricate that we could enable people who are application experts (but not necessarily robot design or fabrication experts) to rapidly create robots for their specific needs. Although Roboticists claim that robots are for dull, dirty, and dangerous use-cases, the community predominantly uses them for the first case, because robots are currently expensive and slow to build, which makes them precious. If we change this situation by making robots practically disposable/expendable, we could potentially re-imagine many robot use-cases. With this future in mind, we are creating new design tools to convert high-level requirements specified by non-experts into concrete multimaterial electromechanical design plans, new materials that leverage multimaterial additive manufacturing, and new multimaterial fabrication methods to automatically convert these designs into functional robots. I will highlight each of these elements in the presentation.