Entrepreneurs can now download online blueprints of fully functional robots that you can build from your own 3D printer.
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"It's about as difficult as assembling a cupboard from IKEA," says Gael Langevin, but he's not talking about an affordable piece of Scandinavian furniture. The 41-year-old French sculptor and model-maker is referring to his open-source, life-size, 3D-printed robot.
Known as InMoov, Langevin's animatronic creation can be made by anyone with access to little more than a basic 3D printer, a few motors, a cheap circuit board and about $800.
Langevin has been developing InMoov in his spare time since the beginning of last year and, he stresses, it's all still very much a work in progress. So far the robot boasts a head, arms and hands and the torso is not far off.
"I've also posted some programming instructions -- so you can make it respond to voice-activated commands," he says. "It can grab hold of things, tilt its head and move its arms around in various ways ... and when I get around to building some legs, that's when things will get really interesting."
The project began when Langevin was asked to create to a prosthetic hand for a commercial photo shoot. He'd recently brought a 3D printer to play with at home, so thought this would be a "good way to test it out," he recalls.
Although he confesses to being a "coding novice," Langevin taught himself how to use Arduino -- a very cheap and increasingly popular microcontroller -- so that he could get his prosthetic hand to move.
He posted the bodiless limb to Thingiverse -- a digital design file sharing site -- and was swamped with enthusiastic responses. The users began printing and building their own versions, and wanted to see more. So Langevin obliged.
Gael Langevin, sculptor and model-maker
"Each individual part is small enough to be printed on the cheapest range of 3D printers available to the public" he says, noting that most of the robots you read about are both prohibitively expensive and "kind of ugly."
Despite the sci-fi appearance of his creation, Langevin's vision for the InMoov robot is remarkably quaint.
"It's something to make with the family on weekends," he says. "When she was very young, my daughter said she wanted to build a plane and various other incredible things ... this robot shows you can build anything you like."