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MM: Robot That Learns By Reading Thoughts; Greener Alternative For 3D Printing

In this Manufacturing Minute episode, a robot that learns by reading thoughts and a greener alternative for 3D printing.

Brain-Controlled Robot

Imagine controlling a robot’s actions with a simple thought. No more speaking or typing in commands, and no more attempts to teach robots the complexities of human language.

A team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Boston University have been working on just that. 

In demonstrations, an industrial robot from Rethink, named Baxter, sorts spray paint cans or spools of wire into the correct bin. 

When the robot moves to place the wrong item in the wrong bin, it self-corrects after receiving a signal from the human observer. The observer wears an EEG cap which can pick up on error-related potential signals, which naturally occur in the brain when noticing mistakes. When an error occurs, the signals are sent to Baxter, who blushes with embarrassment, and corrects the action.

The research is still in the early stages, but the team says the system could be enhanced to handle complex multi-choice tasks. They believe the tech could be used to supervise factory robots, driverless cars and other technologies that aren’t even invented yet.


Do you think this technology could improve human interaction with industrial robots? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Environmentally Friendly 3D Printing

MIT scientists are also hard at work developing what could be a more environmentally friendly 3D printing material. Researchers pioneered a method to 3D print cellulose — the versatile organic polymer that gives wood its properties. Cellulose is renewable, biodegradable and chemically flexible, which long made it attractive to engineers.

Previous efforts to print the material, however, were largely unsuccessful because cellulose tends to break down before it becomes viscous enough to print. The MIT study used cellulose acetate — an easy-to-produce, widely available material that can be dissolved in acetone, then extruded through a printer.

After the printing process, the acetone evaporates and leaves a solid structure in its wake. The original cellulose bonds are then restored through a sodium hydroxide treatment.

The technology could allow a wide range of industries — from food and pharmaceuticals to building materials and textiles — to benefit from 3D printing.

The process is also cheaper and could be faster than conventional 3D printing since the acetone evaporates at room temperature.


How could manufacturers benefit from cheaper, more versatile 3D printing materials? Tell us what you think by leaving your comments below.

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