FiloBot: The Vine-Inspired Robot that 3D-Prints its Own Body


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Traditional robots may find the exploration of unstructured environments challenging due to obstacles like unpassable gaps. This is where the FiloBot steps in, as it has the ability to grow in a manner similar to a self-propagating vine.

FiloBot was created by researchers at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology). Remarkably, this robot has the capacity to grow towards sources of light and move away from gravitational forces, much like the climbing tendrils of a plant.

Structurally, the FiloBot is equipped with a conical head at its top, a power source or base station at its bottom, and a body resembling a stem in the middle. As the robot grows, its body continues to extend. But, how exactly does this growth occur?

The FiloBot development process involves the robot consistently drawing a filament of 3D-printing thermoplastic from its base station spool to its head. The filament then traverses through a heated extruder in the head, which rotates slowly relative to the body. Through this innovative mechanism, the FiloBot prints its own body in consecutive coiled layers of molten plastic, which solidify as they cool down.

That said, the body isn’t printed in a uniform fashion. In response to light sensors, a gyroscope and other head-integrated electronics, the temperature, orientation and deposition speed of the plastic is continuously varied. In this way, the FiloBot is able to control the direction in which its body grows, always heading toward the light and away from the ground.

What’s more, the robot automatically winds around vertical supports when they’re present (just like a vine winds around a trellis), allowing it to put less time and energy into growing a strong body when strength isn’t needed. When no adjacent support surfaces are detected, however – in other words, when the head has reached an open space – the body is grown stiff and strong, so it can support itself.

A paper on the research, which was led by Emanuela Del Dottore, was recently published in the journal Science Robotics. You can see the FiloBot in time-lapse growing action, in the video below.

Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science via EurekAlert

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