Anthropomorphic Robotic Arm 3D Printed in One Piece
Shawn Wasserman posted on October 16, 2015 |
Tennessee Tech students Scott Hill, Chas Davies and Nikola Tepavac, hold their winning robotic arm on high.

Tennessee Tech students Scott Hill (left), Nikola Tepavac (middle) and Chas Davies (right), hold their winning robotic arm on high.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has awarded students from Tennessee Tech University (Tennessee Tech) for their anthropomorphic robotic arm, which was 3D printed in one piece.

“Our design is what we call a compliant mechanism design, comprised entirely of flexible joints and members in a single, solid part,” said mechanical engineering professor and team advisor Steven Canfield.

Canfield noted that the arm’s dexterity, which rivaled that of a human’s, made the product stand out. Traditionally, robotic hands consist of a two-jaw gripper. This hand, however, consists of four fingers and a thumb, allowing for more precision and control over grip and movement.

“One of the unique things that put us over the edge is [that], traditionally, when you design a mechanical product, it’s made of a bunch of parts, and then you assemble the parts together with bearings and end up with more than 100 parts,” said Scott Hill, a mechanical engineering graduate student. The robotic arm from Tennessee Tech, however, was printed as one solid, yet flexible, part.

Canfield acted as the team’s guide. He oversaw the project and added direction to their task. The students, Scott Hill, Chas Davies and Nikola Tepavac, designed, printed and tested the arm.

“It is quite possible for humans to be shaking hands with robots in the future because of our design concept,” said Davies, a mechanical engineering student. As a result, to help make the arm safer for human interaction, the arm was printed out of plastic material instead of metal.

Industry experts selected the Tennessee Tech team as finalists in a competition that showcased a series of inventions made using additive manufacturing. The team went on to win the award for the most innovative design.

The competition challenged participants to create a business plan for their invention or revamped products using the Lean Startup method of product commercialization. Canfield’s expertise in using Lean Startup may have given him an edge. Next year, Canfield aims to have one or two more teams compete in the challenge.

Would you have qualms about shaking hands with one of Tennessee Tech’s creations? Would you pick up the gauntlet dropped by Canfield and challenge his future teams in this competition? Comment below.

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