3D-printed miniature roller coaster powered by Arduino Mega

While many enjoy roller coasters, few can claim the same dedication of engineer Matt Schmotzer, who 3D-printed a 1/25th scale replica of Invertigo, a boomerang coaster at Kings Island in Ohio.

As reported on 3D Printer Chat, the CAD model took only a week to complete, but 3D printing this 4’ x 8’ creation took an incredible 450 hours. This doesn’t include the countless hours spent assembling and debugging it.

The coaster runs on an Arduino Mega, using 42 of the 54 available IO pins. This allows it to not only lift and drop the coaster, but also feature details like actuated gates and restraints to keep the tiny imaginary passengers safe.

Be sure to check it out in the video below!

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3D-printed synthetic muscle opens door to lifelike robots

3D-printed synthetic muscle opens door to lifelike robots

A ‘soft actuator’ with an intrinsic expansion ability and three times the strength of natural muscle has been developed by researchers at Columbia Engineering – signalling a major breakthrough in the push for lifelike robots.

I recently reported on the unveiling of a robot with flexible sensor ‘skin’, noting that bio-inspiration is enhancing the physical fidelity of robots and helping their mechanical attributes catch up with their AI capabilities. Now, natural muscle has provided the framework for the latest advancement in soft robotics.

Imagine the aforementioned sensor skin placed over synthetic muscle that can expand and contract without external compressors or high-voltage equipment. A group in the Creative Machines lab at Columbia Engineering, led by professor of mechanical engineering Hod Lipson, have made this possible.

“We’ve been making great strides toward making robot minds, but robot bodies are still primitive,” said Hod Lipson. “This is a big piece of the puzzle and, like biology, the new actuator can be shaped and reshaped a thousand ways. We’ve overcome one of the final barriers to making lifelike robots.”

Read more: Ford Robutt ensures car seats are built to last

The hard road to soft robotics

One of the long-standing hurdles in robotics has been the lack of easily processed soft actuators with the ability to bear high levels of strain. Previous solutions have required high voltages or external compressors and pressure-regulating components.

This latest method combines the elastic nature of silicone rubber with the extreme volume change of the ethanol distributed throughout it. A thin resistive wire provides a small electric current that heats the 3D-printed muscle up to 80°C, causing it to expand by as much as 900 percent. It is also incredibly strong – boasting a strain density 15 times larger than natural muscle and the ability to lift 1,000 times its own weight.

“Our soft functional material may serve as robust soft muscle, possibly revolutionizing the way that soft robotic solutions are engineered today,” said lead author of the study Aslan Miriyev. “It can push, pull, bend, twist, and lift weight. It’s the closest artificial material equivalent we have to a natural muscle.”

Read more: Walmart testing autonomous shelf-scanning robots

What’s next for lifelike robots?

Along with its extremely low cost (about 3 cents per gram), simple fabrication process and environmental-friendliness, its capabilities could enable new kinds of electrically-driven, entirely soft robots.

By mimicking living organisms, soft robotics has enormous potential in areas where robots need to contact and interact with humans, such as manufacturing and healthcare. Soft robots are better suited to replicating the intricacies and dynamic nature of natural motion, such as grasping and object manipulation. In other words, the sorts of delicate tasks performed every day in manufacturing and healthcare.

The researchers aren’t content to settle for the results revealed in their study, titled Soft Material for Soft Actuators. Going forward, they hope to replace the embedded wire by incorporating conductive materials into the muscle, as well as increasing its response time and shelf life.

Beyond that, if natural motion in robots is to be realized, they will need to develop the artificial intelligence required to control the synthetic muscles – brains to match the brawn.

Read more: Number of service robots to reach 264 million by 2026

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Brunel scientists develop flexible, wearable 3D-printed battery

3d printed battery developed by brunel university

Scientists at Brunel University London have become the first to devise a simple and affordable method of 3D printing a flexible battery. 

These days, the long hours spent charging our wearables and gadgets represent the most significant amount of time we spend away from them. Portable chargers have already started to fill that powerless void. Now, it looks as though technology developed at Brunel University London could keep devices running for longer.

With the help of readily available household supplies and a 3D printer, scientists at Brunel have devised a flexible, wearable battery that can be implanted into a plastic wristband. The technique opens the door for experimental wearable designs that could provide a handy source power for phones, medical implants and more.

Read more: Researchers look to protect 3D printers from cyber attacks

3D printing a supercapacitor

Although 3D printers are typically limited to design studios and maker’s workshops, it may not be too long before they are more common in everyday homes and offices. With that in mind, printing a personal battery that doubles as a wearable seems a good idea.

According to a blog post published by Brunel, the process is straightforward: “The printer squirts stacks of silicone, glue and gel electrolyte pastes like a layer cake, to make what looks like a clear festival wristband. Sandwiched inside is a supercapacitor, which stores energy like a battery, but on its surface and without chemical reactions.”

The project has been undertaken by Brunel’s Cleaner Electronics Research Group. Its focus is to reduce the environmental impact of electronic consumer products in pursuit of sustainable progress.

“This is the first time a flexible supercapacitor including all its components has been produced by 3D printing,” said the group’s Milad Areir, co-author of the report, A study of 3D printed flexible supercapacitors onto silicone rubber substrates.

“The most popular way to produce them is screen printing, but with that, you can’t print the frame of the supercapacitor on silicone. Our technique brings it all together into one process with one machine. It will definitely save time and costs on expensive materials,” said Areir.

Read more: Metals shortages pose little risk to future battery production, MIT finds

A step forward for battery technology

Researchers around the world have been pioneering novel ways to create flexible supercapacitors. But many of those methods are costly and rely on 3D laser selective melting machines and multiple stages to print different parts.

Brunel’s work suggests that a simple, powered-up wristband can be made using inexpensive items you can find in any hardware store, instead of expensive metals or semiconductors. The flexible batteries also stand up to stress tests without losing power.

“This has developed a novel 3D printing method for manufacturing flexible supercapacitators, by one single continuous process using low-cost flexible silicone compatible with the electrode, current collector and electrolyte materials,” the study says.

According to Brunel, it may soon be simple for anybody to print their own battery. All they will need is an open-source printer connected by USB to a syringe driver and a motor. After that, it’s just a case of printing the layers in a honeycomb pattern.

The simple design means that less material needs printing and the process is fast. It also leaves room for designers to experiment with different shapes.

The process is easy to copy, according to the study, and shows 3D printing using paste extrusion can be used to develop more sophisticated electronic devices with different mixes of paste.

“In future it can be used for mobile phones,” said Milad. “For example, if the phone battery is dead, you could plug the phone into the supercapacitor wristband and it could act as a booster pack, providing enough power to get to the next charging point.”


On 28 & 29 November 2017, we will be holding our Battery and Energy Storage Show event at The Slate at Warwick University Campus, UK, featuring a wide range of specialist speakers from both the private and public sectors.

 

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Alan Turing Institute to monitor Amsterdam’s smart, 3D-printed bridge

alan turing institute design and build bridge in amsterdam

The Alan Turing Institute has announced an ambitious project to install sensors on and monitor a 3D-printed smart bridge in Amsterdam. 

Alan Turing is widely credited as being the father of modern computing. The institute named after him has pioneering ambitions to a similar degree, having been founded by five of the UK’s top universities in 2015.

Now, a research team from the Alan Turing Institute has announced is partnering with 3D printing specialists MX3D to design, build and monitor a 3D printed stainless steel bridge.

The 12-meter long structure will be the largest of its kind in the world and is due to be installed across an Amsterdam canal in 2018.

Read more: Driverless boats to launch on Amsterdam canals

Stability and local environment

As well as being 3D printed, the bridge will be embedded with a network of sensors to collect data on structural measurements and environmental factors.

Data points will include strain, displacement, vibration, air quality and temperature. The result will be a bridge that engineers can observe the bridge’s use and performance in real time, while taking in the big picture over the course of its lifespan.

Data scientists from the Alan Turing Institute will also be inputting all of the information gathered by the bridge in Amsterdam into a ‘digital twin’ of the structure. This will create a living computer model designed to imitate the physical bridge with growing accuracy as more data is gathered.

As well as providing local authorities in Amsterdam with live information on environmental factors in the city, the team hopes to gain insights that will inform the designs of future 3D-printed metallic structures.

Professor Mark Girolami, director of the Turing-Lloyd’s Register Foundation Programme for data-centric engineering, has suggested that the multidisciplinary approach to the build and implementation of the bridge makes it unique.

“The 3D bridge being installed by the MX3D team next year will be a world-first in engineering,” he said. “This data-centric, multidisciplinary approach to capturing the bridge’s data will also mark a step-change in the way bridges are designed, constructed, and managed, generating valuable insights for the next generation of bridges and other major public structures.”

“It is a powerful embodiment of what data-centric engineering can deliver as a discipline, and I look forward to seeing the bridge in action from summer next year.”

The MX3D bridge digital twin model developed by the Steel Structures research group in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London.

Read more: Dutch city of Dordrecht uses IoT for smart city planning

New design language

By making sensors an intrinsic part of the structure, the research team hopes that this will set a precedent for smarter bridges in future. Embedding technology could have a significant impact at every stage of the process.

Scientists from Imperial College London will work with MX3D to carry out material testing on the 3D printed steel, in an effort to anticipate the impact of pedestrian or cyclists over the bridge and inform its design before construction starts. Software engineers from Autodesk and The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions will be exploring new ways to use and connect the bridge data with other aspects of the city.

As Gijs van der Velden, chief operating officer of MX3D, pointed out: “The MX3D technique offers engineers the freedom of working with metals in an entirely new way. The Alan Turing Institute’s digital twin of the bridge will help with the creation of a new design language. We hope that this data-centric engineering method will speed up the introduction of this exciting new production technique into the construction market.”

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Add voice control to your 3D-printed desk lamp

Nikodem Bartnik had a small problem. When soldering, he had to move his light around in order to properly see what he was working on. In order to avoid this constant interruption, he built a 3D-printed lamp capable of manuevering like a small robot arm under voice command.

An Arduino Uno controls the light’s movement directly via three servos, and a relay flips the switch on and off. Instead of adding voice recognition hardware to his robotic light, he cleverly linked it with an Android app over Bluetooth, using his phone to translate spoken words into serial commands.

Although great for soldering, this device can certainly come in handy when reading books or even finding your way to bed at night. Want to create your own? You can find more details on Bartnik’s Instructables page here.

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