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Many robotic parts are geometrically intricate and require hours of design and fabrication to make sure all connecting parts match. With 3D printing, the printer can accurately form the needed angles and perforations for many robotic components while doing it efficiently and cost effectively as less material will be used or wasted in production. Many of the most innovative robot companies using 3D printing are also utilizing open source software to be implemented for functioning the robot, meaning any developer or regular consumer can program the robot to perform desired tasks.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • New or improved products, processes, or software
  • Technological in nature
  • Elimination of uncertainty
  • Process of experimentation

Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015 President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.

Companies Experimenting with 3D Printed Robotic Parts

Intel Corporation, California

Jimmy the Robot [Image: Slashgear]

Intel, the over $50 billion in sales of semiconductors and processor company, has developed a consumer friendly 3D printed robot nicknamed Jimmy. Intel offers a kit to purchase that includes motors, a processor and free blueprints that can be loaded into a 3D printer to assemble the robot. The interesting thing about Jimmy the robot is that it is fully customizable to the consumer’s liking, and functions like translating languages and singing along are enjoyable to consumers; however the robot is capable of much more advanced functions as well as learning and sharing functions with others through an open source platform.

InMoov Technologies, France

InMoov Robot

Similar to Intel, InMoov has designed a 3D printed robot with an open source platform as well. InMoov however made their robot a life size version that is for professional and casual use. The InMoov robot is capable of perceiving sound, speaking and moving independently, identifying its environment through micro cameras and 3D touch as well as recognizing the owner’s voice commands. The humanoid bot has many practical uses with its initial functions entailing being used in prosthetics. Designer Gael Langevin hopes to use the robot as a platform to aid facilities such as universities, laboratories and general hobbyist use. Langevin also hopes the open source platform will allow the InMoov bot to expand its already remarkable functions.

EZ-Robot, Inc., Calgary, Canada

EZ Robot examples [Image: LinkedIn]

The EZ-Robot Company has shifted the confines of typical 3D printing of robotic components by offering a multitude of printable parts that are clip and snap on. There are multiple printable “bits” that allow for many configurations. The programming of the robots is simple with varied degrees ranging from novice to advanced users, while offering cloud storage making it effective for sharing creations and programming with the world.

Poppy Project Company, France

Poppy Project creation

The Poppy Project is a more beginner friendly 3D robotic platform that is used for stimulation of STEM activities as well as artists wanting to animate their ideas. The company also uses an open source platform that allows for the sharing of many ideas to aid in growing the community and educating young amateur developers. The Poppy Project is labeled as “intelligent toys” with the effort to expose children to early scientific education. The creations are limitless with this company as there are plenty of body types and several other parts to allow for as much customization as possible.

BCN3D Technologies, Barcelona, Spain

Moveo Robotic Arm [Image: BCN3D]

This technology company from Spain has been experimenting with 3D printing for years and has recently shifted the focus to robotic components. The company’s Moveo project features a fully 3D printed robotic arm capable of being programmed and customized to the user’s liking. The goal of the project is for educational purposes, but the robotic arm is already being used in industrial settings due to the reduced cost of the arm compared to other industrial equipment.

ABB Group, Switzerland

YuMi [Image: ABB]

This large multinational automation technology company has developed a 3D printed robot with the nickname “YuMi.” The robot stands alone in its ability to handle soft and fragile objects due to the 3D printed grippers on its hands. The robot also has vacuum operated hands instead of the standard hinges, allowing the robot to be versatile to many industries. The robot has many functions that can facilitate a plethora of industrial processes with the company’s goal to develop a YuMi for everyday consumer usage.

Harvard University, Massachusetts 

Octobot [Image: Harvard Gazette]

Harvard has developed the first robotic parts consisting of solid and liquid 3D printed parts. The project dubbed as “Octobot” has a soft circuit made from micro fluid that makes the parts highly flexible. The uses of this type of robot are being experimented with for patients undergoing painful surgeries in small body compartments due to its ability to easily maneuver through the spaces. The parts could also be used in prosthetics because of the flexibility that could function past the limitations of current prosthetic parts. The soft robotic technology is being experimented as the future of biomedical tools.

Conclusion 

3D printing in the robotics industry has had an immense impact even in the beginning phases. Numerous companies are aiding in propelling the growth of the industry not only to advanced developers but to the younger demographics to potentially attract more attention to the field and garner a larger following. The continued growth of the robotics industry especially in the area of 3D printing will yield results for a smarter more innovative future.


Charles Goulding and Ryan Donley of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed robotics applications.

 





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