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Harvard researchers create 3D printable, robotic lamp that can assemble itself
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By Staff | 3ders

A team of researchers led by Robert J. Wood from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, has developed a proof-of-concept 3D printed lamp that can assemble itself.

At the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) this year, the team presented the lamp that can self-assemble based on the "shape memory" characteristics of the polymers in its construction. These are "smart" materials that can go from one state to another via a stimulus such as temperature change. With the "shape memory" polymers, the object is able to fold into desired shapes.

The lamp is made of shape-memory polymers, thin layers of copper, and layers of paper and foam. It starts out as a flat sheet and triggered by heat, it folds up into a box. The researchers used the paper and foam for structure and double-sided tape to keep all parts together.

The self-assembling lamp also includes a mechanical switch and a capacitive touch sensor. The mechanical switch can be used to open or close the printed electrical contacts, and the touch sensors are able to turn the lamp on or off or adjust the brightness of the LED.

The big news here is most of the parts have been printed out on a special 3D printer, including the shape-memory polymers, the structure of the lamp itself, a mechanical switch, most of the wiring, and even the capacitive touch sensors. The parts that were not printed are wires and the LED that were manually soldered to the composite before folding. The lamp was wired into an Arduino to enable the capacitive touch sensor to control the LED properly.

The focus of this research is getting the printed sensors to work, according to the researchers. Their goal is to enable the next generation of printed electronics and robots:

The self-assembling lamp demonstrates the potential for the rapid and inexpensive production of self-folding machines that can interact with the environment. It showed that even complex mechanisms, such as the mechanical switch, can be integrated into the self-folding process of a larger machine, and utilized in practical electronic circuits.

The research team, which included ByungHyun Shin, Samuel M. Felton, Michael T. Tolley, and Robert J. Wood, presented their paper "Self-assembling Sensors for Printable Machines" last Tuesday in Hong Kong.

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