Science & Technology Engineering, Robotics & Electronics

Tendons, muscles, bones, ligaments: the 3D printed robotic hand makes an impression

The model was created by a US start-up that published the results of its studies in the journal Nature



For the first time, a robotic hand has been made with a 3D printer with bones, ligaments and tendons made of different polymers in a single solution.

It is the work of Swiss and U.S. researchers who have developed a technology that makes 3D printing suitable for slow-curing polymers, offering significant advantages over previous materials. The advances have been made possible thanks to a new technique that combines 3D printing with a laser scanner and feedback mechanism. The technology and their sample applications are published in the journal Nature.

A start-up in the USA now offers this possibility and prints complex objects at the request of customers. Until recently, 3D printing was limited to fast-setting plastics, but now it has been adapted for slow-setting polymers. These new materials have decisive advantages, as they have improved elastic properties and are more durable and robust. Slow-curing polymers are now usable thanks to new technology developed by researchers at ETH Zurich and a US start-up. This makes it possible to print complex, more durable robots with a variety of high-quality materials in a single solution. This new technology also facilitates the combination of soft, elastic and rigid materials, as well as the creation of delicate structures and parts with desired cavities. Thanks to this new printing method, researchers at ETH Zurich have succeeded for the first time in printing a robotic hand with bones, ligaments and tendons made of different polymers in a single solution. "We couldn't have made this hand with the fast-curing polyacrylates we've used in 3D printing so far," explains Thomas Buchner, a doctoral student in Professor Robert Katzschmann's group at ETH Zurich and first author of the study.