3D printed robot can help save human lives

Fully-operated robots could soon replace humans in dangerous operations thanks to new research developed by researchers at the College of Information Technology at the United Arab Emirates University.

The project was established by Dr Fady Najjar, Principal investigator of the AI and Robotics Lab and Assistant Professor at the College of Information Technology (CIT), in collaboration with Abu Dhabi-based security company Etimad R&D.

Its aim was to build a fully-operated robot to replace humans in dangerous operations, such as opening a hazardous or suspicious bag. “You can send the robot and control it,” Dr Najjar said. “It is well-known for replacing humans in dangerous situations or bomb disposals, but we have tried to make it cost-effective by using 3D printing technology to decrease the price of the robot.”

Every part of the robot was built from scratch, costing less than US$25,000 compared to conventional robots at around US$200,000. “When you buy a robot, it is usually a closed box and you just operate it,” he explained. “While with ours, you can replace modules based on your needs and requirements and design the parts that can fit with the need of a specific situation, so it’s more adaptable and easier to modify.”

Another new element introduced is the way in which the robot is controlled. Rather than using a remote controller, the robot can be controlled through the body of the operator itself by wearing motion sensors that capture his movements and mimics it on the operated robot. “So it needs less training because if you want to use a remote control, you have to train on how to use the tools,” he added. “But with our sensors, you just transfer your movement to the robot”.

The robot took six months to build. Work is currently under way to improve the machine by adding textile sensors in the robot to ensure the operator feels any heat, or hard and soft objects. As such, it will go beyond just reflecting an image or a vision, and introduce temperatures and physical feelings, allowing the operator to have better control.

“We are still working on it and the idea of transferring the motion of a human to a robot is still under research,” Dr Najjar noted. “The challenge is to fit human kinematics because humans have more freedom and flexibility, which doesn’t represent the robot, so it is about finding the best equation that represents the human equation into the robot’s movement.”

Another challenge facing the research will be to find a way to represent these textile sensor data to the human and to improve the motion of the robot as it receives a large amount of information from the operator, which is not considered easy to handle.

“We are currently working on this,” Dr Najjar said. “And we are also working on the security issue, such as decoding data from the robot to the operator, because it is a very sensitive connection that could be hacked so it needs to be protected. We are thinking about how to protect this data transfer.”

He expects the project to complete in six months, while keeping costs low and creating customization. “Different countries, cultures or needs will differ from place to place so 3D technology is the main element we want to show,” he concluded. “We can customize anything, we don’t need to focus on buying different items.”

He also spoke of the possibility of building a robot or object with specific functionalities, making it useful for space missions and investigations, rather than having humans risk their own lives.

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