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Researchers at MIT have 3-D printed robot skin using viscoelastic materials

By Reuters   October 9, 2016 | 11:46 pm PT
The skin protects robots and helps make their movements more precise.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a 3-D printed skin for robots that acts as a shock absorber. The skin protects robots and helps make their movements more precise.

The skin is made of a “programmable viscoelastic material” (PVM). Unlike purely elastic substances, a viscoelastic substance has an elastic component and a viscous component. Viscoelastics are able to dissipate or dampen energy where elastics cannot.

The team found that by 3-D printing the skin, they are able to manipulate its elasticity by altering the amount of liquid material inside the layers. Printing was also the most affordable method of manipulation.

Researchers tested the skin on their cube robot that moves by bouncing. The team used a solid, a liquid and a flexible rubber-like material called TangoBlack+ to print both the cube and its skins.

They found that the robot with the more elastic skin was able to bounce higher and land with more precision.

The work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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