If you envisaged a future where robots would be made to do what we humans can do but would rather not then you may be a little disappointed. Robotics is coming along in leaps and bounds but more robots are being made to do exactly what humans can’t do rather than what they can.
The recent boost for robotics has come not from any directly related technology but the ability to make robots in a cost effective way using existing technology. The game changing technology is in fact 3D printing and the increase in the prolificacy of 3D printing services.
3D printing services can create very detailed parts, and even finished items, with little time and little effort involved. The other important thing about 3D printing services is that a design can be changed with the upmost ease, no resetting milling machines and other tooling equipment, and there is no cost disadvantage to printing small numbers or producing units as and when needed.
The latest robotics project to benefit from 3D printing services is Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s robotic spider project. To look at the robot you might think that the Germany research firm’s creation is the latest ultra expensive executive toy but it is no toy and its uses are highly practical.
The eight-legged spider is a great example of learning from nature, the legs are highly agile and bend in all the right places meaning that the robot like a real spider can crawl and scuttle into the most improbable gaps. Whatever ground the robotic spider or a real spider is on it will always keep four legs on the ground while it moves its others: this means it always keeps balance and can cope with any type of ground with almost no chance of getting stuck in any ditch, crevice of crack.
The use of 3D printing services as mentioned allows for changes to easily be made to a design: this is because the design is a 3D CAD file that is sent straight to print and so a few changes to the file are all that are needed. Variations of the spider include a model that is able to jump and versions that include cameras and other sensors and measuring devices that can be manufactured to order.
What version of the spider is needed depends on the client and the spider is expected to be useful in a variety of situations. The most useful of all though could be following earthquakes and building collapses. The spider would be able to delicately pick its way through debris sending back images or even more importantly infra-red pictures. This could save lives by showing rescuers where to dig straight away so they can get to trapped people as soon as possible: the spider could also beam back pictures to show any hazards.
In other situations as well a spider could get into potentially hazardous situations and send information back: they could well therefore end up being used by emergency services including fire, police and cave rescue. The price that 3D printing services bring the units down to is essential to make the spiders affordable to these services. The spider would also be an alternative to track driven vehicle such as those that are used to defuse bombs, as mines sweepers and even those used on extraterrestrial missions.