[Huaishu Peng] and a group of other researchers have come up with a system that allows them to use virtual reality (VR) to model an object in a space in front of them while a robot simultaneously 3D prints that object in that same space, a truly collaborative effort they call the RoMA: Robotic Modelling Assistant. This is a step toward fixing the problem of designing something and then having to wait for the prototype to be made before knowing how well it fits the design goals.
How does the designer/robot collaboration work? The designer wears an Oculus Rift VR headset with a camera mounted to the front, turning it into an AR (Augmented Reality) headset. In front of the designer is a rotating platform on which the object will be 3D printed. And on the other side of the platform is the 3D printing robot. In the AR headset, the designer views the platform, the object, and the robot as seen by the camera but with the model he’s working on overlayed onto the object. An AR hand controller allows him to work on the model. Meanwhile, the robot 3D prints the model. See it in action in the video below.
Some of the advantages of this collaboration are demonstrated in the video below by designing and printing a teapot. When it’s time to model the teapot’s handle, the designer reaches out and positions a finger where it should go through the handle while drawing a virtual handle around his finger. This way there’s less chance of printing a full teapot with a handle only to find the handle’s not quite big enough.
They also show how you can put physical objects on the platform and draw and then 3D print onto the objects. In the video below they add a stand to a toy jet fighter. Or you can draw and 3D print a little, then add physical objects for scale, and then even draw and 3D print around them. They demonstrate this in their paper about this project by creating a structure around some LEGO pieces.
As with any collaboration, they have to lay out some ground rules, what they call domains, controlling who can access the object at different times. For example, the robot can print on its side of the platform while the designer is close the platform on his side but if the designer touches the platform then the robot automatically backs away. If the designer is far from the platform then the robot can do whatever it wants, including rotating the platform.
Sharing a workspace with an industrial grade robot arm can be dangerous. In addition to the domains, the robot arm is programmed to remain in its work area and if the designer strays into the robot’s work area then the hand controller vibrates. The robot’s speed is also limited.
As you’d expect, they also wrote some software, an AR renderer and an AR editor, but we’ll leave that to their paper to describe.
If this looks familiar then that’s probably because they previously wowed us with their On-the-Fly Printing, the first iteration in this ongoing project.