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Print Your Own Custom Robot

Want to rule the world with an automated army, or just build a little friend to make household chores easier? New technology will soon allow you to print and program robots from the comfort of your own desk.

If you’ve ever dreamed of creating a personalized robot army of origami insects, this project is for you: Armed with a a $10 million grant, MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard are working on a technology that would allow anyone to design and print a custom robot in under a day.

The five-year project, dubbed “An Expedition in Computing for Compiling Printable Programmable Machines,” aims to create a technology that allows people (even non-scientists) to find a nagging household task, go to the local Kinkos to look at bot blueprints, and generate a design that can solve the aforementioned task (this is in a future where there are 3-D printers at Kinkos). After 24 hours of the printer doing its magic, you’ve got an origami gripper robot that can pick up and dispose of some of those disgusting lunch leftovers from three weeks ago.

Today, designing and building robots can take years. But MIT researchers built the robot insect and gripper seen in the clip above in just 70 minutes–and for $100. And it’s not just for lazy non-dish-doers: The two robots are being explored as future methods to examine contaminated areas and help people with disabilities pick things up. “This project aims to dramatically reduce the development time for a variety of useful robots, opening the doors to potential applications in manufacturing, education, personalized health care and even disaster relief,” said Rob Wood, an associate professor at Harvard, in a statement.

If you don’t feel like waiting for the research to pan out, you can buy your own robot swarm right now. Just try to use it for good.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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