Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
    New Breakthrough in 3D Printing: Robotic Hand with Advanced Polymer Materials

    Researchers at ETH Zurich have achieved a groundbreaking milestone in 3D printing technology by successfully printing a robotic hand using different polymers for bones, ligaments, and tendons all at once. This innovation represents a significant improvement over traditional 3D-printed prosthetics, as it allows for the replication of the elasticity and rigidity found in human hands.

    Until now, 3D printing was limited to fast-curing plastics only. However, the ETH Zurich team has developed a method that makes slow-curing polymers suitable for 3D printing, opening up new possibilities for creating complex prosthetic devices. These slow-curing polymers offer enhanced elastic properties, durability, and robustness compared to their fast-curing counterparts.

    This breakthrough was made possible thanks to the collaboration between researchers at ETH Zurich and a US startup from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The cutting-edge technology developed by these teams enables the creation of delicate structures and parts with desired cavities. InkBit, the MIT startup, now offers this technology and can print complex objects based on customer requests.

    One of the significant advantages of this technology is its ability to combine soft, elastic, and rigid materials seamlessly. By utilizing slow-curing thiolene polymers instead of fast-curing polyacrylates, the researchers were able to achieve a hand with superior elastic properties and faster recovery time after bending.

    According to Thomas Buchner, a doctoral student from ETH Zurich leading the research, the use of slow-curing polymers was crucial in creating such a sophisticated prosthetic hand. This breakthrough holds tremendous potential for the development of soft robots made of materials that are less prone to causing harm to humans and more suitable for handling fragile objects.

    Going forward, this innovative 3D printing technology could revolutionize the field of prosthetics and soft robotics, paving the way for the creation of more advanced and functional robotic devices. The researchers have published their technology and sample applications in the esteemed journal Nature, further solidifying the significance of this achievement.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    Q: What is the key innovation in this 3D-printed robotic hand?
    The key innovation lies in the use of different polymers for bones, ligaments, and tendons in a single print, replicating the elasticity and rigidity of a human hand.

    Q: How do the slow-curing polymers used in this project differ from the fast-curing plastics previously used in 3D printing?
    Slow-curing polymers offer enhanced elastic properties, are more durable and robust, and enable faster recovery after bending compared to fast-curing plastics.

    Q: What benefits do soft robots made of soft materials offer over conventional robots made of metal?
    Soft robots are less likely to cause injury when working with humans and are better suited for handling delicate and fragile objects due to their softness.

    Q: Can this technology be applied to other complex 3D-printed objects?
    Yes, the technology developed by ETH Zurich and MIT allows for the printing of complex objects with desired cavities and structures, making it applicable to various fields beyond prosthetics.