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CSAIL team's printable robots earn first place in IEEE competition

The MIT SEG: An origami-inspired Segway robot
The MIT SEG: An origami-inspired Segway robot
Photo courtesy of the researchers

This week researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) received top honors in multiple categories at an international competition focused on designing affordable, classroom-friendly robots.

The team from CSAIL Director Daniela Rus’ Distributed Robotics Lab earned first place in the categories of hardware and curriculum for a printable, origami-inspired Segway robot, called SEG, at the “Ultra-Affordable Robot” competition sponsored by the African Robotics Network (AFRON) and the IEEE Robotics and Automaton Society.

The design by Rus, Ankur Mehta, Joseph DelPreto, Benjamin Shaya, and Lindsay Sanneman allows someone to build a printable robot for as little as $20, by hand, in just five steps that involve simple folding and assembly. The small robot is made of polyester and moves around on two large wheels can avoid obstacles thanks to a robust but inexpensive onboard sensing and navigation system.

The group’s 2014 version builds on previous iterations by employing hardware that is even more robust, adaptable and inexpensive. The team adapted graphical drag-and-drop software that’s convenient for first-time programmers, and also developed a curriculum that teaches students some basic control systems to implement with SEG.

“We’re excited to have been able to make some really encouraging upgrades to our prototype in such a way that it is more effective, more intuitive and more affordable,” Mehta says. “With this kind of progress, we envision a future where robots that can help you with important daily tasks could be printed for a few dollars from your desktop printer.”

SEG is part of a larger printable-robots project, funded by a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation, that aims to re-imagine how robots can be designed and produced.

“This research envisions a whole new way of thinking about the design and manufacturing of robots,” Rus told MIT News in 2012. “We believe that it has the potential to transform manufacturing and to one day enable one robot per child in schools.”

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