While not as impressive as a fully articulated pneumatic arm, researchers at Cambridge University have found a less creepy and much more practical use for the Lego Mindstorms robotics kit: automating tedious scientific procedures. Lecturer Michelle Oyen and PhD student Daniel Strange are investigating ways to create artificial bone, but the steps to create samples is quite tedious. A base object, such as a small piece of metal, needs to be dipped in various solutions and then rinsed with water. This process is repeated many times to build up the artificial bone — a boring task for a human, but one Strange thought he could cheaply automate.
Using a Lego Mindstorms robotics kit, Strange built two small cranes and programed them to move in a set path, raising the lowering the artificial bone sample between the various solution. The robots then go to work building samples throughout the day or overnight, leaving the researchers free to take care of other tasks. The final samples come out perfect, thanks the consistent precision the robotics offer. Artificial bone is mostly used to aid in bone grafts and as implants, but the researchers think that it could one day be used as a building material. Thanks to some Lego building blocks, this might just be possible.