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| 1 minute read

Shake your 3D printer by the hand

Cambridge researchers have created a soft, 3D-printed robotic hand that, despite being controlled only at the wrist, is capable of grasping objects more reliably than a fully-actuated metal hand. This is an impressive demonstration of what 3D printing can achieve when used creatively -- it's increasingly possible to 3D print sophisticated devices that might soon be of genuine industrial and commercial interest.

That's particularly significant these days as more and more 3D printers are leaving the confines of the research lab for the homes of enthusiastic hobbyists. Once the necessary files to 3D print (say) a robotic hand become available, it can be produced almost anywhere in the world for only the cost of the required materials.

This presents unique challenges for patent protection. It's common for patents to have manufacturing claims covering the most common ways of producing a given product, but as it becomes more possible to rely on 3D printing rather than traditional manufacturing, such claims may become easier to circumvent. On top of that, since 3D printers are available globally, it's unlikely to be commercially viable to obtain patent protection in every country where a product might be 3D printed -- a marked contrast to the current situation, in which many products require specialised factories that are only present in a few countries globally.

It's too early to tell as of yet what the impact of increasingly advanced and widespread 3D printing on the world of patents will be, but it will be interesting to watch things develop.

The researchers say their adaptable design could be used in the development of low-cost robots that are capable of more natural movement and can learn to grasp a wide range of objects... Over the past several years, soft components have begun to be integrated into robotics design thanks to advances in 3D printing techniques, which have allowed researchers to add complexity to simple, energy-efficient systems.


3d printing, patents