Poppy: An Open Source 3D Printed Robot

by Matthew Wellington on December 10, 2013

Additive Printed Robot Called PoppyCould you imagine 3D printing your own robot? If having a robot buddy at home has been one of your exciting imaginations, you could actually make your dream come true thanks to the open source project going by the name “Poppy”.

Poppy is a 3D printed humanoid robot that was designed by French scientists at the Flowers Lab in INRIA Bordeaux.

The main reason Poppy was designed was to help scientists do more research on bi-pedal locomotion, plus to enable further examinations to be done on the physical and social interactions between humans and robots.

This puzzling robot has been made using off-the-shelf electronics and parts while its limbs are 3D fabricated with a polyamide material.

Overall; Poppy has a multi-articulated trunk, bended legs and a soft body totally resembling that of a typical human. The structure was not only adopted in order to make it appear more human-like but also because it greatly increases the robot’s sturdiness, balance and stability.

Although not as costly as many commercial robots in the market, Poppy is relatively large with a height of 33 inches and weighing about 7.7 pounds. The bigger part of the general cost of the robot is in fact due to the 25 servo motors that it’s been made with. The following materials have also been incorporated into the making of the robot:

  • 2 HD Cameras (serving as the eyes)
  • A stereo microphone
  • Intertial measurement unit
  • LCD Screen (poppy’s face)

The robot is powered by the well known Raspberry Pi.

Creating Your Own Robot

For many people who may not exactly be scientists, Poppy brings the possibility of owning a humanoid robotic toy. The good thing is it is not difficult to own and create your own Poppy.

First of all, since the electronics used to make the robot are off-the-shelf, you can just as easily find all the parts you need to fabricate your Poppy from various stores wherever you live. The rest of the parts, for example the limbs can be 3D printed using any Standard Affordable 3D Printer.

The Flowers Lab team was highly considerate in ensuring that Poppy was as cost effective as possible. This is the core reason that led the team to use specially chosen lightweight materials that would allow the robot to function properly while using less powerful motors.

From the look of things, their efforts paid off because Poppy is cheaper when compared to smaller robots like the Sony ORIO or the Aldebaran Robotics NAO. You may find this bewildering but the sole difference is in their weight and thus the motors used. The other two robots weigh more and therefore need more powerful motors to operate. And advanced motors certainly do not come cheap!

Poppy roughly costs $11000 to assemble. Albeit this is still somewhat pricey, you will have to part with thrice as much to get your hands on commercial robots or the same size. So compared to what’s there in the market, Poppy is undoubtedly the most affordable humanoid robot that you can presently find.

Now that the project is open source, you can easily find the blueprints of the software and hardware required to create Poppy online. Consequently for people who would really like to, creating your own Poppy is not rocket science.

Poppy Vs Commercial Robots

Poppy has in various ways outshined many of the commercial robots that have been in the market for quite a while now. For instance, a good number of the commercial robots today are not really Biologically Inspired. According to the Flowers Lab, this is one of the key reasons that prompted them to arrive at the decision of 3D printing their own robot.

Among the main facets that make Poppy qualify as a more biological and natural robot; is its articulated spine (made with 5 motors). This is not evident in many commercial robots and is what sets Poppy apart. The spine has also come in handy in several ways for instance making Poppy walk more naturally, improving its posture and giving it advanced flexibility over other robots.

Poppy has some springs at the knees which are specifically designed and positioned to provided added balance and strength on the supporting leg, with every step that the 3D printed robot makes. Poppy moreover, has comparably smaller feet with noticeably thin toes, which are meant to enable it to achieve ‘heel to toe’ locomotion that seriously enhances its stability when moving.

Looking at its prototype, it is hard not to notice that Poppy is wearing some child-like shoes. Well the shoes are equipped with 5 pressure sensors on every sole, which can provide instrumental data to the user.

Poppys Foot Sensors

Lastly, whereas conventional robots have straight thighs, Poppy has bent ones; a factor that has been found to boost its stability.

The INRIA Flowers group found that bending the thighs resulting to fewer sways when walking which provided an overall increase in stability, balance and posture of the robot.

All these factors help Poppy to challenge conventional robots designs.

Not to mention, Poppy is engineered to work for several consecutive hours enabling scientists to carry out longer and more comprehensive experiments.

Anticipated Future Adjustments

Although Poppy has brought forth many positive factors, there is still a lot that needs to be done before the final design of the robot can be reached. Its usage and accessibility might still be limited as it is presently.

One of the major aspects that could impede wide accessibility of the robot by 3D enthusiasts is its price. Even though it costs about a third of what many commercial robots would cost, the Flowers Lab is working on building an even cheaper solution to ensure total affordability of the robot.

Reduction of its weight through using Hi-Tech Lightweight Materials is believed to be one of the mechanisms that will be used to achieve this.

Secondly, the team of scientists is also looking for ways to make it possible for Poppy to Walk on its Own instead of having to depend on a human trainer for movement.

Finally, further research is going on in order to develop new hands and feet for the robot that will make its stability even more impressive.

If you enjoyed reading this article you might want to read about 3D Printed Liquid Metal and Stretchable Electronics which we wrote about a while ago.

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below and share this article with your friends.

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