The newest wonderfully insane concept out of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) aims to democratize and simplify the creation of robots, by having ones you can print as needed.
The five-year project, dubbed "An Expedition in Computing for Compiling Printable Programmable Machines," brings together researchers from MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard University to work on technology that would allow robots to be designed by laypeople and then printed for immediate use. Backed by a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the planned program would allow individuals with a specific need — say going into the crawlspace under their house, or taking over the world — to select a basic blueprint, customize it, and have it fully assembled and programmed within 24 hours. They even have some examples ready to go.
We're a long way from that stage yet, both in the programming and printing technologies, but the project lays out four basic steps to getting us there:
(1) the development of tools for functional specification and automated co-design of the mechanical, electrical, computing, and software aspects of the device; (2) the design of planning and control algorithms for the assembly of the device and for delivering the desired function of behavior, and tools for the analysis of these algorithms that take into account all the necessary resources, including actuators, sensors, and data streams from the world; (3) the methodology to generate device-specific and task-specific programming environments that provide safeguards for programs written by non-expert users to enable them to operate the machines safely; and (4) the development of novel approaches to the automated production of new devices which may be based on the synthesis of programmable materials with customizable electrical or mechanical properties.
I can't wait to build my drink fetching robot butler!