Researchers from ETH Zurich have created a 3D printed robotic hand that includes bones, ligaments, and tendons. The project focuses on a new 3D printing technology that utilizes slow-curing polymers. This approach overcomes the constraints of traditional fast-curing plastics, enabling the production of more resilient and flexible robotic components.
A collaboration between ETH Zurich researchers and the U.S. start-up Inkbit has facilitated the ability to print complex objects using a combination of soft, elastic, and rigid materials. The soft robotic hand created through this collaboration serves as a key example of the technology’s application.
The researchers employed slow-curing thiolene polymers for their enhanced elastic properties. These materials allow the robotic hand to quickly revert to its original shape after bending, a quality not present in the previously used fast-curing polyacrylates.
Safety and Functional Benefits
The project is led by ETH Zurich’s robotics professor Robert Katzschmann and doctoral student Thomas Buchner. According to Katzschmann, soft robots offer certain advantages, such as a reduced risk of causing injury when interacting with humans and their aptitude for handling fragile items. The robotic hand illustrates these benefits, indicating potential for increased human-robot collaboration in various settings.
ETH Zurich’s team, in collaboration with MIT professor Wojciech Matusik, refined the 3D printing process by integrating a 3D laser scanner and a real-time feedback mechanism. This innovation addresses surface irregularities in printed layers, enhancing the precision of the 3D printing process compared to previous methods that used a scraping device.
Photo Thomas Buchner / ETH Zurich