For centuries the creation of geared automata has been sort of a dark art. To design a mechanical device to move like a human or animal was a trick in itself and to build the gears and rods necessary to propel the thing was even trickier. A team of Disney researchers, however, have created a system that will let puppeteers and fans of clockwork build geared robots using 3D printings and some metal rods. Most important, they look far cooler than this dude.
The designers programmed the system to “try” different configurations of gears at different size ratios. This gave them a ready-made library of motions they could reproduce including odd parabolas, repeating ellipses, and even moves that look random. Write the researchers:
Once the system works on the screen the computer ensures that the gears don’t clash or interfere with the structural components. Then the designer can create a 3D object and print it out on any 3D printer. Think of it as a sort of library/workshop for geared robots that allows you to remix ready-made motions with a very simple toolkit. Disney Research, Zürich, Disney Research, Boston, ETH Zürich and MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory worked together to bring the project to fruition. It also works well with “squishy” objects like jellyfish, allowing for real-looking animals to move in real-looking ways.