A new method of 3-D printing can create flexible products, including for use in robotics. Human-like robotic hands and artificial organs can be built using this new method, according to researchers at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university; MIT; and Inkbit, a startup company spun out of MIT.
Traditional 3-D inkjet printing uses a material that dries quickly and is then scraped to eliminate any imperfections before the next layer of material is deposited. The end product is stiff, and that’s not useful when it comes to developing something like a robotic hand.
Inkbit developed the new 3-D printing method, called “vision-controlled jetting” (VCJ) technology. Instead of scraping away imperfections, the printer includes “an AI-enabled 3D computer vision scanning system” that visually checks the item being produced for imperfections. When it notices an imperfection, the machine calculates how the next layer of material needs to be deposited to correct the imperfection. “This means that instead of smoothing out uneven layers, the new technology simply takes the unevenness into account when printing the next layer,” a November 15 article on ETH Zurich’s website.