Light Play: A 3D Printed Robot Army Commanded by Movement

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In sentences I hadn’t really anticipated writing today, if you’ve always wanted your very own robot army, you’ve come to the right place.

robot army posterEspecially if your ideal robot army is made up of high-vis delta robots that will dance when you dance and move when you move, you’re sure to find what you’ve always been looking for (or maybe what you never knew you’ve always wanted). Sarah Petkus and Mark Koch are among those who have dreamed of their own robot armies, but unlike most of us, they’re really going out to bring their vision to reality–and not just for themselves.

“This is our interactive installation of miniature delta robots which respond to physical motion, granting the user with the sensation of control over an immersive mechanical entity,” they note in the description for the above YouTube video.

Initially, the duo created a proof-of-concept setup featuring 30 delta robots, which they showcased at a 2014 Maker Faire event. Having successfully demonstrated the robots’ capabilities to move as one, with each individual unit responding in the same way to the same stimuli, they decided to move on from this initial showing.

Because a robot army couldn’t possibly be comprised of 30 units, they’ll be nearly tripling the number in the near future, with 84 robots getting ready to tour the west coast of the US, starting soon with the San Mateo Maker Faire, running May 16-17. Light Play, the ultimate installation featuring moving robots, is an interesting concept, and a completely mesmerizing display of robotic movement.

“Light Play is an interactive hive of miniature delta robots made from 3D printed parts which act as a mechanical prosthetic for enhancing self expression,” Petkus wrote on the project site. “The movements of the individual robots are choreographed by a single participant’s physical gesture, resulting in simultaneous feedback in the form of movement and light patterns that mimic the motions of the body.”

delta robotsLast summer, Petkus and Koch ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for their robots, in which backers could pledge money that would yield them a robot kit at the same time as providing funding for the creation of a new robot to also be introduced into the Light Play installation. Through Kickstarter, they raised over $25,000, allowing for a substantial boost to the robot army.

light play robotsIn order to appear to their best advantage, the members of the robot army are mounted on honeycomb-shaped pods. In a redesign from their last Maker Faire appearance, this year’s iteration features ABS-made honeycombs, each of which will hold seven robots, ultimately to be arranged in a set of an even dozen such pods in a multi-level display. The honeycombs themselves were created at the local metal fab shop, and Petkus and Koch are painstakingly doing all the gluing and construction work to get the pieces into shape and ready for the installation layout.

This project has been some time in the making, with Petkus’ blog detailing the process having started up in June 2012.

The very first 3D printed delta robots were quite the accomplishment due to all the groundwork that had to be completed in advance. Petkus’ first 3D printed delta robot, Jeden “(after the Polish word for one),” and Koch’s first, “Amber (after an inside joke [the pair] had at the time),” marked a new age of fabrication in the project.

The delta robots in Light Play have the following specs:sketchup

  • 20 x 20 x 20 cm at rest
  • End effector can reach approximately a 28cm diameter, traveling on the Z-axes 13-15 cm
  • Able to lift a can of soda with end effector (approximately 12oz)
  • End effector speed has been clocked at approximately 150mm/sec on its Z-axis, 250mm/sec on its X-Y axes

Koch handles the software programming, which is currently networked using DMX lighting protocol. While last year they experimented with the Kinect to sense movement data to send to the robots, it caused a high-traffic situation at the booth that became difficult to manage. This year, the robots will react to less obvious stimulation.

“Imagine, if each delta robot were a blade of grass in a field, and [your] movements were the wind… every hop, skip and wiggle you made would send ripples of complex rolling patterns through the field as a response. That’s the end goal, and very much Mark’s department,” wrote Petkus.

deltaPromo47These robots represent an impressive look at what 3D printing technology can offer–not just the ability to create fully customized objects, but an actual entire personal army of robots. The entire project is an impressive demonstration of dedication to a concept, and it sounds like Petkus and Koch are having a blast along the way. Check out the project blog for details on their concepts, progress, and future plans.

Will you create an army of your own robots? What would you like your robot army to do for you? Let us know your thoughts over in the Light Play forum thread at Check out more video and project photos below.

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