Stevens 3D-Printed Robot to Star at Liberty Science Center

This robot can move, swivel, bend at the waist. It can respond to voice commands. It can wiggle its fingers, take a selfie with you, play “Simon Says” — and tell if you’re cheating at the game.

It can also tell you how it was built: printed completely from scratch, in record time, by students operating two programmable state-of-the-art printers in Stevens Institute of Technology’s new PROtotype Object Fabrication (PROOF) Lab.

Now the unique robot is coming to Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. How did it happen? Through collaboration, technology and ingenuity.

Inspiring future science students

Stevens previously collaborated with the Science Center in spring 2015, when four student Senior Design team projects — a mobile robot, model-scale self-coupling and detachable trains running on a track, an Ironman-like body armor suit and an open-source electric guitar — were exhibited for four days.

“I think it’s fair to say this was a big hit,” says Stevens PROOF Lab director Kishore Pochiraju, who coordinated the exhibition with LSC.

“The Science Center is always interested to partner in ways that showcase cutting-edge tech for our guests; these are the technologies that are shaping our world,” notes Bryan Blaney, director of guest engagement for LSC, which hosts 600,000 visitors annually. “What was particularly exciting about Stevens students working directly with our guests, apart from the technology, is that our guests — many of whom are middle- and high school students — can see people not much older than they are doing amazing work.”

After discussions began about collaborating on a second Stevens exhibition, LSC came to Stevens with the idea of 3D-printing a robot that could be at once interactive, instructive and educational. They settled together on a design from pioneering French designer Gael Langevin and transformed a SolidWorks software model of Langevin’s robot into a stereolithography CAD file.

Next, students in a graduate additive manufacturing course taught by Stevens research engineer Biruk Gebre ’06 M.Eng. ’09 began printing approximately 100 limbs, joints, ‘bones’ and other mechanical parts of the robot in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. Then, over the end-of-year semester break, Peter Bruinooge — a fifth-year mechanical engineering major with prior experience crafting infant products on 3D printers and helping redesign a body-armor suit for the Department of Defense — started putting all the pieces together.

“That was a difficult task,” says Pochiraju admiringly. “But he did it., and he did it exceptionally well.”

“I really enjoy the process of creating things from thin air,” says Bruinooge, who also performs charity work and was a member of the Stevens bowling team. “I was always that kid with LEGOs, the one who liked to take apart and build things with his hands. This is an extension of that.

“With 3D printing, you can design something on a computer and, just a few hours later, begin producing a prototype of the object.”

Quickest-produced in the world

As printers whirred and a body swiftly began taking shape, Bruinooge connected the servos and motors that animate the robot. Within a few weeks, it was half-complete.

“This is probably is the fastest-produced full upper-torso 3D-printed robot anywhere in the world right now,” notes Pochiraju.

Bruinooge then worked with Gebre and Stevens student experts in computer and electrical engineering to gradually wire up, power and program the robot with additional motors and servos and an Arduino control module in time for the exhibition.

At the Science Center, Pochiraju hopes it will spark the imaginations of all who see and interact with it.

“LSC receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year: parents, high school and junior high-school students, educators, the local scientific community, many others,” says Pochiraju. “We’re so pleased to be able to bring Stevens’ student ingenuity and a fun application of our own technology to their diverse audiences. And we hope it inspires some of these young people visiting the Science Center to become interested in science and engineering educations and careers themselves.”

A sampling from the current academic year’s crop of Stevens senior design projects might appear at the Science Center, as well, this spring during the exhibit’s second month.

“We could certainly see extending the collaboration,” says LSC’s Blaney.

As for the robot?

“If it goes well, I imagine another museum may wish to do a similar exhibit with us,” says Pochiraju.

Stevens’ PROOF Lab utilizes eight 3D printers, including an Objet professional printer capable of printing multiple materials simultaneously and working in both stiff and bendable plastics.

About Stevens

Stevens Institute of Technology, The Innovation University®, is a premier, private research university situated in Hoboken, N.J. overlooking the Manhattan skyline. Founded in 1870, technological innovation has been the hallmark and legacy of Stevens’ education and research programs for more than 145 years. Within the university’s three schools and one college, more than 6,800 undergraduate and graduate students collaborate with more than 380 faculty members in an interdisciplinary, student-centric, entrepreneurial environment to advance the frontiers of science and leverage technology to confront global challenges. Stevens is home to three national research centers of excellence, as well as joint research programs focused on critical industries such as healthcare, energy, finance, defense, maritime security, STEM education and coastal sustainability. Stevens is in the midst of a 10-year strategic plan, The Future. Ours to Create., designed to further extend the Stevens legacy to create a forward-looking and far-reaching institution with global impact.