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University of Leeds unveils national robotics innovation centre

22 October 2014

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems has been inaugurated at the University of Leeds.

A 3D visualisation studio allows robot builders to inspect digital models of robot designs in fine detail prior to being 3D printed

The centre has the most advanced suite of robotic building equipment in the UK, including the world's largest multi-material 3D printer, an Objet1000 machine from Stratasys, as well as the Objet500 Connex3 colour, multi-material 3D printer. The facility is being funded as a resource not just for researchers, but also for local industry. A key objective will be to forge partnerships with companies interested in developing state-of-the-art robotics.

"Robotics has been identified by the government as one of the areas where the UK can develop a technological edge, therefore it's our vision to build a world-leading centre for robotics and autonomous systems," says Dr Robert Richardson, Director of the facility. "We looked at the most innovative and exciting robots being developed across the world and asked ourselves what kit we'd need to build something even better.

"With our 3D printing technology, we'll be able to make robots that are smaller, more intricate, more flexible and more integrated than ever before. Leeds already has a great track record in robotics for surgical applications, patient rehabilitation, prosthetics, and exploration, but the new facility will revolutionise our ability to turn new concepts into reality."

In a UK first, the lab features the world's largest multi-material 3D printer, the Objet1000, capable of 3D printing huge 1:1 scale parts combining rigid and soft materials, all in a single build. The technology will also enable its users to mix two base materials on-the-fly to create over a hundred new digital materials, making robot design and production more versatile than ever before.

 "If you think about it, combining hard and soft materials is critical to some of the most effective physical systems we know," continues Dr Richardson. "The human body, for instance, has soft tissues, flexible cartilages, elastic tendons and rigid bones all working closely together.

"As an example, we recently developed a life-size reproduction of a human colon that includes compliant materials and was created from reconstructed MRI data using our Objet1000. We are currently developing techniques to 3D print more accurate tissue phantoms to facilitate the evaluation of surgical devices and robots."

The lab is also equipped with a 3D visualisation studio that allows robot builders to inspect digital models of robot designs in fine detail prior to being 3D printed. Completing the 3D printer line-up is Stratasys' Objet500 Connex3 colour, multi-material 3D printer. Its unique triple-jetting technology will be used to produce complex robotic parts with virtually unlimited combinations of rigid, flexible, transparent and colour materials - all in a single print run, requiring no assembly.

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