As if 3D printers weren't mind-blowing enough, iRobot (yes, the company responsible for the Roomba) has just filed a patent for a robot-assisted all-in-one fabricator that can print, mill, drill, and finish a final product — and all without human intervention. Called the "Robotic Fabricator," the system is a precursor to machines that will eventually be able to autonomously construct other machines from scratch — including itself.
Typically, 3D printing involves a considerable amount of human oversight. Machine handlers need to remove unwanted materials such as burrs on plastic and metal parts, reposition and remove printed objects, and get rid of powdery dust from the interiors of intricate structures.
But this machine, with its robotic arms and sensors, takes away the need for an operator by functioning as both a milling machine and a drill.
It features a flexible pair of grippers that exhibit an impressive six degrees of freedom. And the platform is equipped with a series of sensors that tells the computer where it's at in terms of the production, and when to utilize the additive technique of 3D printing or the subtractive (and conventional) technique of milling and drilling.
And to combine pieces, the machine can secure objects with glue, connectors, or fasteners.
Eventually, the autonomous fabricator will be used in various industries for producing and repairing products. iRobot says any number of materials can be used, including ABS, polycarbonate, silicone rubbers, urethane rubbers, plastics, and low-melting-temperature metals, as well as combinations of these.
Looking to the future, it'll be fabricators much like this one that'll be able to construct entire machines from scratch, and all without human intervention. It also brings to mind the RepRap Project (short for Replicating Rapid Prototyper), a conceptual 3D printer that can print most of its own components.
Image: Christian Delbert/Shutterstock.