Robots can be amazing, but they're also expensive, complicated, and for most us something we only read about or see in movies. But a new National Science Foundation-funded project from MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard is looking to change that by making printable, programmable robots that anyone can have access to. The goal is to create a platform that makes it quick and easy for people to acquire robots to help with very specific tasks — you'd simply head on over to the robot printing shop, select a blueprint that fits, and then tweak the programming for the task you have in mind. Within 24 hours you'll have a fully functional machine ready and waiting.
So far two different types or robots have been prototyped — a multi-legged machine (pictured) that can reach hard to access or dangerous locations, and a gripping-tool designed for folks with limited mobility. Eventually the team hopes to have robots that can aid in a number of different areas, from manufacturing and education, to health care and disaster relief. The project has funding for the next five years, but before a robot printer opens up around the corner, there's plenty of work to do, including creating a simple programming language for users and coming up with the right materials for the robots themselves. After that, well, Kinko's might just get into the robot business.