Revolutionary 3D-printed devices utilize advanced sensing technology

Up until now, it was still infamously difficult to include sensors in 3D designs.
Nergis Firtina
A system that enables makers to incorporate sensors directly.
A system that enables makers to incorporate sensors directly.


Engineers might be able to create smart hinges that can detect when a door has been opened or gears inside motors that can communicate their rotational speed to a mechanic by integrating sensors into rotational systems.

With 3D printing, MIT engineers have now created a method for quickly integrating sensors into these devices.

Even while improvements in 3D printing allow for the quick manufacture of rotational devices, it is still infamously difficult to include sensors in the designs. As a result of the complexity of the rotating components, sensors are often manually implanted after the gadget has been manufactured.

According to MIT's release, integrating sensors manually is a difficult operation. Wires may become entangled in the rotating components or hinder their rotation if embedded inside a device, yet attaching external sensors would enlarge a mechanism and possibly restrict its motion.

"Devices can now perceive their angular position"

Instead, a maker may now use the MIT researchers' new technique to 3D print sensors into a mechanism's moving elements. Devices can now perceive their angular position, rotational speed, and direction.

“A lot of the research that we do in our lab involves taking fabrication methods that factories or specialized institutions create and then making them accessible for people. 3D printing is a tool that a lot of people can afford to have in their homes," says Marwa AlAlawi, a mechanical engineering graduate student and lead author of the study.

"So how can we provide the average maker with the tools necessary to develop these types of interactive mechanisms? At the end of the day, this research all revolves around that goal," she added.

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AlAlawi and her colleagues intend to test various materials, as well as investigate ways to make their sensor design more resistant to outside noise and create printable sensors for other kinds of moving systems.

The study was published by MIT.

Study abstract:

We introduceMechSense, 3D-printed rotary encoders that can be fabricated in one pass alongside rotational mechanisms, and report on their angular position, the direction of rotation, and speed.MechSenseencoders utilize capacitive sensing by integrating a floating capacitor into the rotating element and three capacitance sensor patches in the stationary part of the mechanism. Unlike existing rotary encoders, MechSensedoes not require manual assembly but can be seamlessly integrated during design and fabrication. OurMechSenseeditor allows users to integrate the encoder with a rotating mechanism and exports files for 3D-printing. We contribute sensor topology and a computational model that can compensate for print deviations. Our technical evaluation shows thatMechSensecan detect the angular position (mean error: 1.4°) across multiple prints and rotations, different spacing between sensor patches, and different sizes of sensors. We demonstrateMechSensethrough three application examples on 3D-printed tools, tangible UIs, and gearboxes

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