Fabricating fully functional drones

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CSAIL’s “LaserFactory” system automates the full process for making functional devices in one system.

From Star Trek’s replicators to Richie Rich’s wishing machine, popular culture has a long history of parading flashy machines that can instantly output any item to a user’s delight. 

While 3D printers have now made it possible to produce a range of objects that include product models, jewelry, and novelty toys,we still lack the ability to fabricate more complex devices that are essentially ready-to-go right out of the printer. 

A group from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) recently developed a new system to print functional, custom-made devices and robots, without human intervention. Their single system uses a three-ingredient recipe that lets users create structural geometry, print traces, and assemble electronic components like sensors and actuators. 

“LaserFactory” has two parts that work in harmony: a software toolkit that allows users to design custom devices, and a hardware platform that fabricates them. 

CSAIL PhD student Martin Nisser says that this type of “one-stop shop” could be beneficial for product developers, makers, researchers, and educators looking to rapidly prototype things like wearables, robots, and printed electronics. 

Read more: Drones That Hunt Hurricanes – NOAA Puts Some To The Test

“Making fabrication inexpensive, fast, and accessible to a layman remains a challenge,” says Nisser, lead author on a paper about LaserFactory that will appear in the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in May. “By leveraging widely available manufacturing platforms like 3D printers and laser cutters, LaserFactory is the first system that integrates these capabilities and automates the full pipeline for making functional devices in one system.” 

Inside LaserFactory 

Let’s say a user has aspirations to create their own drone. They’d first design their device by placing components on it from a parts library, and then draw on circuit traces, which are the copper or aluminum lines on a printed circuit board that allow electricity to flow between electronic components. They’d then finalize the drone’s geometry in the 2D editor. In this case, they’d use propellers and batteries on the canvas, wire them up to make electrical connections, and draw the perimeter to define the quadcopter’s shape. 

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Source: Rachel Gordon | MIT CSAIL

Photo credit: Press



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