Autonomous Systems: Spider Workers

The next step in 3D printing could be something called mobile manufacturing. Siemens researchers in Princeton, New Jersey have developed prototype spider-like robots that can work collaboratively to print structures and surfaces, thus potentially accelerating production of large-scale, complex structures such as the fuselages of planes and the hulls of ships.

Essentially fully autonomous additive manufacturing devices with legs, spider robots being developed at Siemens Corporate Technology in Princeton could work collaboratively to manufacture a wide range of structures.

Essentially fully autonomous additive manufacturing devices with legs, spider robots being developed at Siemens Corporate Technology in Princeton could work collaboratively to manufacture a wide range of structures. (Source: Siemens)

The spider-like bots are essentially fully autonomous additive manufacturing devices with legs. Siemens spiders, or SiSpis, are part of a larger picture that defined as Siemens Agile Manufacturing Systems (SiAMS).  Siemens is looking at using multiple autonomous robots for collaborative additive manufacturing of structures, such as car bodies, the hulls of ships and airplane fuselages.

Of course, adding a layer of material to the inner surface of something the size of a ship’s hull is a job that would require more than just a few spiders. Most likely, hundreds would be needed. So the key question is: how would such an army of robots work together? The answer is a form of autonomy. Each spider is capable of manufacturing only a small portion of a workpiece.

This process is supported by algorithms that allow multi-robot task planning so that two or more devices can collaborate on the additive manufacture or surface processing of a single object or area.

To accomplish this, the robots use onboard cameras as well as a laser scanner to interpret their immediate environment. Knowing the range of its 3D-printer arm, each robot autonomously works out which part of an area – regardless of whether the area is flat or curved – it can cover, while other robots use the same technique to cover adjacent areas. By dividing each area into vertical boxes, the robots can work collaboratively to cover even complex geometries in such a way that no box is missed.

> Read more by Arthur F. Pease, Pictures of the Future, April 2016