Functional Freeform Fabrication for Physical Artificial Life

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5 Author(s)

Solid freeform fabrication (SFF) allows 3D-printing of arbitrarily shaped structures, directly from computer-aided design (CAD) data. SFF has traditionally focused on printing passive mechanical parts. Advances in this technology and developments in materials science make it feasible to begin the development of a single, compact, robotic SFF system – including a small set of materials - which can produce complete, active, functional electromechanical devices - mobile robots, for instance. We are advancing steadily toward this goal, and successes thus far have included the freeform fabrication of zinc-air batteries, conductive wiring, flexure joints, and combinations of these with thermoplastic structures. Several essential functionalities – actuation, sensing, and control electronics - still remain to be realized before complete electromechanical systems can be produced via SFF. Conducting polymers (CP) are a class of materials which can be used to produce all of these. Several SFFcompatible CP processing methods have been identified, and actuators produced via one of these have been demonstrated. When coupled in a closed-loop with an evolutionary design system, the ability to produce robots entirely via SFF becomes a bridge between the physical and the simulated, giving artificial evolution a complete physical substrate of enormous richness to explore with little or no human involvement.