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World Maker Faire's Life-Size 3D Printed Robot

By Wesley Fenlon

InMoov, a 3D printed robot project started in France, has evolved into a platform with builders in different parts of the world. Chuck Fletcher brought the United State's first InMoov to Maker Faire.

If Roy the Robot, one of our favorite projects from the Bay Area Maker Faire, and I, Robot's Sonny had a love child, the robot they spawned would probably look a whole lot like InMoov. InMoov looks an awful lot like a predecessor to I, Robot's translucent androids, though it's only a torso, arms, and head so far. Also, he's not killing off troublesome humans to save humanity from itself. Yet.

InMoov is, however, a pretty cool milestone for robotics and 3D printing. "All the parts are 3D printed--except the electronics and the hardware--from the [MakerBot] Replicator 2 over there," said Chuck Fletcher, who brought InMoov to World Maker Faire in New York. "It took about three or four months, night and weekends. 400 hours of printing.

InMoov rested on a stand at Maker Faire, surveying his surroundings. Even without moving facial muscles, InMoov looked pretty expressive. Its face was printed in a permanent intimidating stare. When its head swiveled around on its neck to look at you, it really felt like it was looking at you. Which is something InMoov will actually be able to do, eventually.

Fletcher equipped the robot with an eye socket-mounted camera to track motion. Before some technical snags got in the way, he had even planned to hook InMoov up to a Kinect sensor to mimic any human standing in its field of view (provided they moved slowly enough, anyway). A looping video in the booth showed InMoov's eye tracking in action.

Despite the months of nights and weekends Fletcher spent printing and assembling InMoov, the robot isn't one of a kind. " It's designed by a guy in Europe who's a modelmaker, and I think when he started he didn't know about arduinos or robots or anything," said Fletcher. That guy is Gael Langevin, a French sculptor and modelmaker. He started a blog for InMoov back in May 2012, describing it as "the robot hand you can print and animate." Since then, the project has grown to encompass a larger website and a new description--"the first life size humanoid robot you can 3D print and animate"-- since it now includes hands, arms, shoulders, a torso, neck, and head.

As Fletcher explained, Langevin started building a 3D printed robot and ended up creating a small open source community around the project. And from that, InMoovs have started to pop up across the world. "I've made some modifications and done some of my own software things, but this may be the only build in the United States. There have been a couple in Europe. I see it as a platform, now, which is nice, because, okay, now that you have something, you can start to improve it. We're trying to have more people do more builds."

A big part of the InMoov project is MyRobotLab, which Fletcher describes as a hobbyist robotics toolset. More specifically, it's a Java framework for controlling all sorts of functions related to robotics; servo and motor control, speech recognition, microcontroller control, even Twitter. Fletch has InMoov hooked up to a computer, which allows for direct control and programmed behavior.

"[MyRobotLab is] a lot more accessible than some of the heavy open source robotics stuff like ROS, which is this monstrous thing they use at NASA," Fletcher said. "The computer's the brain. It's got a camera in the eye to do the eye tracking. There's three Arduino's on the back that manage right, left, and the head. So basically the computer talks to the Arduinos to control the motors."

All InMoovs start out as Langevin's 3D Blender files, but the assembled robots differ. Fletcher made some modifications of his own, and other tweaks to the InMoov design were incorporated back into Langevin's build. While InMoov's hardware may continue to grow more complex, Fletcher sees the robot's advancement--at least as a platform for makers to learn from and contribute to--happening on the software side.

"My guess would be the next level of this would be smarter software, where you could maybe take animation files--there's a format called BVH, which is what they use in video games when they put the suit on somebody and they track them. So you could actually take a BVH file and play it back. That'd be really cool."

Find more videos of Langevin's InMoov robot project here.