Mon. Dec 11th, 2023
    Revolutionary Breakthrough in 3D Printing: A Leap Forward in Soft Robotics

    In a ground-breaking collaboration between researchers at ETH Zurich and a US-based MIT-affiliated startup, a remarkable milestone has been achieved in the realm of 3D printing. For the first time ever, a robot hand with bones, ligaments, and tendons has been successfully printed, revolutionizing the field of soft robotics. Gone are the days of piecing together disparate components; the entire hand was printed simultaneously using a cutting-edge laser-scanning technique.

    This pioneering method utilizes different polymers of varying softness and rigidity, employing a novel approach where special plastics with elastic qualities are created in one continuous process. This not only expands the possibilities for prosthetics but also offers unprecedented potential for the production of soft robotic structures across diverse industries.

    By enabling the printing of slow-curing plastics instead of solely fast-curing ones, this hybrid printing technique presents a multitude of advantages. It enhances the durability and elastic properties of the materials, transforming the way we fabricate objects. In fact, this breakthrough allows for more accurate replication of natural structures, as demonstrated by the intricately designed robotic hand.

    Professor Robert Katzschmann of ETH Zurich emphasizes the advantages of soft robotic materials over those made of metal. Their flexibility reduces the risk of injury when interacting with humans and makes them well-suited for handling delicate objects. This groundbreaking technology still employs a layer-by-layer printing process. However, an integrated scanner continuously monitors the surface, ensuring the production of flawless objects by detecting any irregularities before instructing the system to proceed with the next material type. Moreover, the extruder and scraper have been updated to accommodate slow-curing polymers, enabling customization of stiffness to meet the requirements of diverse industries.

    As the MIT-affiliated startup Inkbit envisions commercial applications for this novel technology, they plan to make it accessible to manufacturers. Not only will they introduce newly-developed printers to the market, but they also plan to offer complex 3D-printed objects that leverage this cutting-edge technique to smaller entities. The potential applications extend far beyond soft robotics, including the production of sound-absorbing materials and vibration-dampening objects.


    Q: What is the significance of this breakthrough in 3D printing?
    A: This breakthrough represents a major advancement in 3D printing technology, particularly in the field of soft robotics. It enables the creation of complete robotic hands with bones, ligaments, and tendons in a single printing process, offering new possibilities in the realm of prosthetics and soft robotic structures.

    Q: How does this new technique differ from traditional 3D printing methods?
    A: Unlike traditional 3D printing methods, this technique uses a laser-scanning approach to create various soft polymers with different levels of rigidity and elasticity. Additionally, an integrated scanner constantly checks the surface for irregularities during the printing process.

    Q: What are the advantages of using slow-curing plastics in 3D printing?
    A: Slow-curing plastics offer increased durability and enhanced elastic properties compared to fast-curing plastics. This allows for the creation of objects that closely mimic natural structures and enables the fabrication of unique, customizable products for diverse industries.

    Q: What are some potential applications of this technology?
    A: In addition to prosthetics, the technology has potential applications in fields that require soft robotic structures. It can also be used to manufacture objects that absorb noise and vibrations.