It seems that most of the cutting-edge, unprecedented breakthroughs in tech – whether it is in robotics, augmented reality, or 3D printing – arise from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT. So, it’s only natural that MIT researchers are one-half of the team that has developed a mind-blowing new technology which combines all three technologies.
Team leader Huaishu Peng introduced on his website RoMA, or the Robotic Modeling Assistant, the brainchild of team members from both MIT and Cornell University. The system allows a user, using an augmented reality headset, to 3D print designs in real time with assistance from a robotic arm, which fabricates the design into reality.
Instead of designing 3-D models on the computer screen, we wanted to give users the opportunity to work in conjunction with the robot. We call it in-situ fabrication, said Peng, a Cornell information science doctoral student.
The whole system in motion really is a sight to behold, and it is likely to change the way in which 3D printing is utilized, with the robotic arm as a critical factor in that change.
‘With RoMA, users can integrate real-world constraints into a design rapidly, allowing them to create well-proportioned tangible artifacts,’ Peng wrote on his site. ‘Users can even directly design on and around an existing object, and extending the artifact by in-situ fabrication.’
The augmented reality headset works in conjunction with a CAD, or computer-aided design system, which communicates the user’s movements and prompts to the robotic arm. The result is a system of hand-guided 3D printing that looks like something out of Minority Report.
However, Peng would admit that the system is still in its early stages, and the results fairly crude. Part of the lack of precision the system affords is due to the fact that the 3D-printing mechanism is mounted on the arm, instead of the two being one in the same. Still, the speed offered by the mounted pen means that, at the very least, the current iteration of the RoMA is useful as a prototype creation machine that accounts for real-world constraints.
Regardless of its limitations, the RoMA is the coolest 3D print/robotics/AR gadget currently known to man, which counts for something.