“Iterating on Soft Robots” talk at Maker Faire

Kari Love and I gave a talk at Maker Faire last year detailing how the maker mindset (tinkering to get an intuitive sense of the rules governing the system, hands-on learning, fast frugal iteration, and sharing) can be transformative for research into fundamental technologies and chronically intractable problems.

The key factor is going from zero to a working understanding of the ground truths underlying the problem you’re trying to solve as quickly as possible. From historical surveys of how transformative technologies have been developed in the past (like TRIZ), deeply focused research is no match for playful learning and interdisciplinary exploration.

These are the techniques we use at Super-Releaser to get things done given how new the field is and how much it relies on an intuitive understanding of the mechanics of soft systems. When there isn’t a robust framework to simulate before experimentation, you need to rely on experience and spot tests.

Aidan wowing the Maker Faire audience with his soft robot designs

We were also very proud to have our intern, Aidan Leitch, give his own talk on his soft robotics research. It was very well attended and people seemed excited to see live demos of his soft robot designs.

Super-Releaser has signed a book deal with Maker Media

Super-Releaser has begun work on a book on soft robotics for Maker Media. Kari Love and I are writing a book that provides a history of the field of soft robotics, tutorials demonstrating its basic principles, more sophisticated projects like a control system and entire soft robots, and the potential of applied soft robotics from medical devices to human spaceflight to interplanetary exploration. As far as we can tell this will be the first book published demonstrating practical soft robotics.

The Kestrel – an open source soft robotic gripper we’ve designed for the book which you’ll be able to replicate at home

We are working with Roger Stewart to complete the text before the end of this year. Fingers crossed it will be available in bookstores in early 2018.

Glowy Crystal Ring

Do you like 3D printing, mold making, industrial design, jewelry, and RGB LED’s? You’re in luck, then. I just finished this tutorial for Adafruit and think it’s well worth a look.

In this project, I attempted to make an Arduino powered device that was easy to use, easy to make, and self contained. Every 3d printed component can be done in a single build without support material. The ring has a battery, switch, and USB port. Once it’s together, all you need to charge or reprogram it is a USB Micro cable.

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Print Your Own Robot: Part 10

Long time no see, folks. I’ve got some great news for you. I’ve finally found a method for getting super complicated geometry locked inside of a seamless skin. It’s taken a lot of prototypes to get here, but I think the results are more than worth the effort. There are some wrinkles to iron out (which I’ll get to below) but all in all I think I’m incredibly close to rapid-fire casting working quadrupeds, ready to go in just a few short steps after popping the mold. In other good news, I’ll be dropping some files very soon which should get you your very own working quadruped using any FDM printer. All you need is a Makerbot or similar, a few hours, and some casting materials to have an exact duplicate of my most sophisticated robot to date.

Continue reading

Print Your Own Robot: Part 9

My latest quadruped design

This will be an update on the things I’ve learned molding quadrupeds over the last couple of months and some previews of the new robots I’ll be experimenting with in the next few weeks. To start, I’ve had the chance to run a gaggle of design experiments ranging from small changes to the particular silicone I’ve been casting, to more radical changes to how the whole plionics manufacturing process comes together.

I’ve discovered that molding complex channels of tubing can be extremely difficult, and the CAD equally infuriating. I’m discovering some automatic routing tools in SolidWorks that could streamline the process, but there might be another solution that sidesteps that whole mess entirely. It’s possible to cast around silicone tubing that’s already connecting up all the interior geometry. So, what I’d have to do to get the design working is build the cores with little fastenings for plugging in tubing and make sure all the tubes have enough clearance to get past one another. I’m anticipating the world of reality doesn’t let me off the hook that easily, but it’s a start. Continue reading

First to Blog

This is a response, more of a high five, to Zach Hoeken’s post up on MAKE: “First to File? Nah, First to Blog!” Basically his post was a series of ideas that have been hanging around in his notebooks, possibly eligible for patents, that he would rather see out there and made in the world than locked away between the pages of a personal sketchpad forever or exploited to the chagrin of mankind by some unruly technological entity, wrapped up in complex patent labyrinths, and never put to a more just use than in sole product from a sole company (see 3d Systems vs the Form 1, Patent Busting3d printing patent challenges, etc). Even worse is the possibility of an idea getting patented and never implemented, only used as a club to hit innovators over the wallet (see Intellectual Ventures). I’m in favor of this. Truth be told I’m pretty aggressively anti patent, which is why all of my recent robotics projects have been released into the open source. Although I realize there’s a difficult road ahead, finding ways to keep funding innovation and novel IP in the world patent abolitionists have been gunning for, I believe open access to information and the network effects it generates far far and away outweigh the small innovation boost you get from researchers confident they’ll be the only people able to profit from the particular idea they’re developing. Continue reading

Print Your Own Robot: Part 8

Visit my soft robot Flickr collection for some detailed documentation and more info on the methods behind this latest robot.

Quadrupeds. I’ve been dreaming about quadrupeds. I’ve been hunting for challenges to test my methods and improve the engineering on the whole “print and cast a soft robot” thing (I really need to come up with a name for this… “Borgatronics?”). I started with tentacles because they were easy to design, easy to test, and symmetrical.

Waxes suspended in the silicone.

They’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s time to turn to other designs. I’ve produced a few prototypes along one main design, and have discovered many things. I’m going to try and explain my logic behind the design and some of the major changes I intend to make in the next version. I’m also going to tell you all the myriad ways I went wrong in this design and the things I’ve done to try and make it right.

This is going to be a pretty dry technical post on the industrial design aspects of the robots I’ve been developing. I promise you entertainment and levity aplenty in the future. For now, we grump about casting flaws, mold design, and process control. Continue reading

3d Print-able Sleep No More Mask

Stitching up the scans into a single surface.

Sleep No More is an incredible production: an immersive live performance staged on an expansive five story set inhabiting New York’s abandoned McKittrick Hotel [I have been informed that the bit about the set being built out of an abandoned hotel is just PR fluff… SNM actually takes place in a warehouse scratch built to look like an old hotel. The more you know]. I don’t need to sing its praises. Other folks have done so amply, effusively, and more successfully in other formats. Just Google it.

I saw it live a few months ago, and it’s stuck with me. I especially liked that I got to keep the mask I viewed the entire performance through. Being a rebel, I brought along a sharpie so I could give it incredulous eyebrows. Fuck the police.

The finished, watertight model, ready for printing.

I thought it would be fun to get more folks in on the action and share my favorite part of the experience, so I teamed up with the impossibly amazing Numidas Prasarn to scan, assemble, and release a life size 3d print ready version of the Sleep No More mask. So, here it is, on Thingiverse and ready to be played with. I intend to shrink it down into little Lego man helmets when I get the chance.

 

Make Your Own Mechanicat

 

The final finished kitty

I just uploaded this little mechanical kitty to Thingiverse, and I think you should make a version for yourself. After a few trials with some cheap 1/4″ plywood, I ended up splurging on pressboard made specifically for laser cutting. The first cat I cut from the cheap ply ended up burning so much it was hard to get something functional out at the end. I blame the adhesive used to laminate the sheets. I think I might try and source some thin ply made with a natural wood glue. In the meantime, Laserbits makes some excellent laser specific stuff.

I’d like to thank Jordan Bunker for offering excellent advice on laser calibration and power. He’s quite a mighty fabricator.