Robots have long been a marvel of engineering, capable of executing complex tasks and navigating challenging environments. However, they have often fallen short when it comes to emulating the versatility and fluidity of human movement. Traditional robots, with their rigid structures and limited flexibility, have struggled to bridge the gap between the mechanical and the organic.
However, a collaborative effort between ETH Zurich and Inkbit has brought about a groundbreaking development in the field of robotics. Using an innovative 3D printing technique called vision-controlled jetting (VCJ), they have successfully created a robotic hand that replicates the intricate internal structure of a human hand. This remarkable achievement signifies a new era where robots can exhibit movements that closely resemble the fluidity and agility of the human body.
The performance of the VCJ method is a game-changer in the robotics industry. Unlike conventional 3D printing methods that rely on fast-curing polyacrylates, VCJ utilizes soft, slow-curing thiolene polymers. These materials offer excellent elastic properties and allow for rapid return to their original state after bending, enabling more human-like movement.
The robotic hand developed by the team consists of 19 tendon-like structures, touch pads, and pressure sensors. This sophisticated design enables the hand to sense touch, grasp objects, and even halt finger movements upon contact. The construction of the hand was informed by MRI data of a real human hand, ensuring anatomical accuracy.
The potential of VCJ extends beyond just the replication of human anatomy. The team has also successfully printed a robotic heart, a six-legged robot, and a metamaterial capable of absorbing vibrations. This versatility opens up a wide range of applications, with the possibility of producing scalable hybrid soft-rigid robots that overcome the limitations of both hard and soft robots.
This advancement in robotics has the power to revolutionize various industries. The VCJ method simplifies the manufacturing process by allowing for the printing of a robot’s entire structure in a single session. It also paves the way for increased adaptability and practical use in fields such as medicine, where soft robots can interact safely with humans, and industries that require delicate object handling.
The collaboration between ETH Zurich and Inkbit has showcased the immense potential of soft robots and vision-controlled jetting in transforming the robotics industry. It highlights the importance of engineering innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration in pushing the boundaries of what is possible. With this breakthrough, we are entering a new era where robots can seamlessly blend into our daily lives, providing endless possibilities for the future.