18 SERVO 08.2014
PRINT A BOT (REALLY!)
Being able to just print out a functional robot would be
awesome. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible ... until maybe
now. At a recent IEEE conference, Harvard researchers
demonstrated a proof-of-concept lamp that can be printed out,
folds itself, and includes both a mechanical switch and a capacitive
The sensors are really big news here. They come straight out
of the printer — just like the structure of the lamp itself, as well
as all of the self-folding elements and most of the wiring.
The mechanical switch is a hinged four-bar linkage that can
be repeatedly twisted (hundreds of times) to open or close
printed electrical contacts. The touch sensor (which can
capacitively sense applied force) can be used to switch the lamp
on and off, or to adjust the brightness of the LED.
The thing that comes out of the printer (a rather special
sort of printer) is a flat multi-layer sandwich of shape-memory
polymers (they take care of the actual folding which is triggered
by heat), thin layers of copper, layers of paper and foam for
structure, and double-sided tape to keep it all stuck together.
Of course, not every single part of this lamp was printed.
Discrete components like the LED were manually soldered to
the composite before folding, and the lamp was wired into an
Arduino to get the capacitive touch sensor to properly control
the LED. But, hey, it’s a big first step.
As you might know, Japanese telecom giant SoftBank surprised everyone recently by
unveiling an interactive personal robot called Pepper which will go on sale in Japan next
year. However, we're learning that's not the only robot SoftBank has in the works. One
of its subsidiaries — Asratec — has announced that they've built a prototype bipedal
humanoid called the ASRA C1, and have also developed a new operating system for
ASRA C1 is 1.2 meters tall, weighs 13. 5 kilograms, and has 35 degrees of freedom
according to specs released by the company. Its limbs are powered by Futaba servos, and
it has a gyro, accelerometer, camera, and other sensors. Parts of its body have soft padding,
making it safer for people to interact with it.
Asratec was founded in July 2013, and its goal is developing robotics products to help
advance humanoid technology. V-Sido is its flagship product and consists of a software
package and a hardware module.
The software package — V-Sido OS — can be used for controlling a variety of commercial robot kits
and servo motors. Thanks to inverse kinematics, users can generate motions in real time using its
software interface or other controllers. Asratec has actually just released an alpha version of V-Sido OS.
The hardware module is called V-Sido Connect. It's an ARM-based board that can control serial servo
motors in combination with V-Sido OS.
It looks like Asratec built the ASRA C1 humanoid to test and demonstrate the versatility of its V-Sido
systems. It's not clear if the company plans to commercialize the robot, though SoftBank CEO Masayoshi
Son appears determined to bring robot helpers into people's lives.
Photo courtesy of Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired