Images courtesy of Edward F. Newall

Robotic engineers can now build together virtual and biological robots in a 3D-printed “robots-alive” tool kit.

The 3D robot maker can create robots that can walk and talk using layers of electronics and sensors. The automated device can assemble four-legged creatures like hamsters, or build hybrid robot systems with skinlike structures. It can even conduct electrical, water and smoke signals from each robot’s brains — or data from cameras on the inside. The modules can also assemble to produce artificial bodies.

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“From a consumer’s point of view, I can confidently say that in terms of autonomous robotics, it is not too far off from what you might see in the video game,” said Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of robotic research at the MIT Media Lab and author of a paper on the emerging field.

The inventors envision more robot-to-robotic systems, something similar to a building used for your best friend’s birthday party.

Called TayLion, a 3D-printed version of the iPhone-like smart phone AI-powered “Robocop,” the home robot packs tiny cameras, data cameras and an antenna structure that can capture video and images from hundreds of feet away. One of the units can tap into cellular frequencies and send commands to all four parts of the robot.

The shipping 3D-printed TayLion, shown here in a 3D printed robot, can assemble to produce hybrid robots that can talk, communicate and operate. Image: MIT

The researchers have developed a program to think about how to make so-called smart mobile robots, like TayLion, that can function independently — for example, through smart phone applications to get kids to walk or check a calendar.

MIT worked with Entraneas LLC to build a portable backpack platform to build a robotic wheel, arms and legs. The tented robot, with four legs that have motors integrated, and can walk, talk and eat food by moving a solar-powered backpack inside. In addition to the mobility, the lollipop-sized robotic wheel can also be used as a toy for kids.

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The 3D printer can also be used to make other electronic parts. The researchers identified several minor technical problems and created a large number of new components that can be completed using the existing technology.

One of the academic researchers, Christopher O’Donnell, told Mashable that MIT engineers are already working with major 3D printing companies and the university’s own researchers on a new platform for building robot robots.

The team has been in touch with companies like Facebook and Philips in the U.S. and is interested in collaborating with others to design and produce 4-legged robots that move as well as double as humans.

Cameras from the robot can attach to clothing or seats, and the user can program that sensor into functions through a smartphone app. Tech companies could also put cameras into existing vehicles.

“Robotics is an area that will go beyond robotics design to 3D printing, advanced medical and military applications and next-generation AI,” Ishiguro said.