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Case Study

Stratasys Direct Manufacturing accelerates the launch of the first open source, 3D printed robot for Intel

December 14, 2017
sdm accelerates launch robot

Stratasys Direct Manufacturing accelerates the launch of the first open source, 3D printed robot for Intel

R2-D2, the Terminator, RoboCop, Wall-E – We’ve come to know many robots over the years through science fiction and film, but the concept of robots walking and talking among us seems light years away. Intel is about to change the timeline and bring robots into our homes and everyday lives sooner than you think. Over ten years ago, Intel’s futurist, Brian David Johnson imagined an open source robot that would change the way we create, build and use robots. With the help of several makers, students, designers and engineers, the first iteration of the 21st Century Robot named Jimmy came to life.

"3D printing is the only manufacturing technology that allows individuals to easily customize and build their own robots from open source design files."

Jimmy is an open source robot whose programming and appearance is totally customizable. The purpose behind Intel’s initiative is to accelerate the adoption of robotic technology, not only for common uses like service, manufacturing and healthcare, but among consumers and students. A variety of smart phone applications run the hardware and personalize each robot’s programming and personality. The robot’s exoskeleton can also be adjusted to 3D print a customized look. 

“The beauty of open source design and apps is they enable users to decide what they want their robot to do and how it will look,” said Johnson. “We don’t really know all of the things the robot can do. It’s really up to the users to decide and create the potential!”

3D printing the body

From the very first sketches of Jimmy, the developers knew that 3D printing would be the only accessible method to build a one-of-a-kind outer body. “3D printing is the only manufacturing technology that allows individuals to easily customize and build their own robots from open source design files,” said Johnson. Building one-off parts with traditional technologies, such as injection molding or CNC machining, would not be realistic for most consumers. With the growth of 3D printing service bureaus and economical desktop 3D printers on the market, 3D printing is more accessible than any other plastics manufacturing technology, giving people the opportunity to easily produce their own robot parts.

Various makers designed and built the first several iterations of Jimmy to find the best dimensions, materials and configurations as a starting point for users to build off of. The first physical assembly of Jimmy was led by Gui Cavalcanti—robot enthusiast, founder of popular Maker Space called Artisan’s Asylum in Massachusetts, former contestant on The Big Brain Theory and robotics professor at Olin College of Engineering. It was at the Olin Robotics Lab where Gui’s class started working on the first walking, talking Jimmy from which other generations of robots would stem from. Each student made their own design iteration and Gui took the best parts from each design and combined them to engineer a Super Jimmy. Gui explains his process in Brian David Johnson’s book, “21st Century Robot”:

“I started working on the Super Jimmy by reading science fiction, and reviewing the illustrations and 3D designs,” Gui explained. “I understood that Jimmy is a character. He had personality and he’s meant to be social. He has this cute look that’s really endearing to people. Then I went about trying to build in the motors, wiring and control, having to make slight adjustments but always trying to remain true to the initial designs.”

The Super Jimmy consisted of many motors throughout his body to give him human-like movements and a complex computer in his head to run those movements, cameras for his eyes, microphones for his ears and a speaker for his mouth. The 3D printed head required full range of motion for the three motors in his neck. The arm motors consisted of two in the shoulder, two in the elbow, one in the wrist and one in the hand to give his arms and hands flexibility to move up and down and left to right. The hips consisted of many small motors in a very small space to give him the full range of motion needed when he walks.

An additive manufacturing solution

The complex design of Super Jimmy’s internal hardware and mechanics required a complex exoskeleton design. The outer shell included over 20 parts that fit together with ball joints and fastening hardware. The part designs had holes, cavities and channels for the hardware and wiring to flow through – shapes that would be nearly impossible to build with traditional technology without multiple secondary operations.

Johnson’s team wanted to make sure the parts could be built on common desktop printers , so the first versions of the exoskeleton were printed on a Makerbot in around 168 hours. But multiple design iterations and a finalized design for the media tour required a network of large format machines to build parts in half the time—that’s when Gui turned to Stratasys Direct Manufacturing.

In early December 2013, Gui ordered the first set of Super Jimmy parts, including shoulders, wrists, thighs, fingers, feet, elbows, calves, PC mount, head, neck and torso. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing built the parts with Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) in ABSi white and ABS-M30 white for parts requiring higher tensile strength for thinner walls. Since he needed them for a design review, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing suggested filling some of the thicker part walls with sparse to accelerate build time. Sparse fill is a build option in which air gaps are widened between extrusion layers to form a lattice structure inside of an enclosed part, using less material, therefore taking less time to build than a solid fill.

After Stratasys Direct Manufacturing delivered the first round of parts, Gui assembled the robot and found time for some design improvements. He ordered the second round of parts in late December with only a week to spare before the media launch.

“Our large FDM capacity came in handy when the second order of 44 parts came through,” said James Grimm, account manager at Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. “We wouldn’t have been able to build all of the parts without multiple Fortus 900mc build platforms and sparse fill.” The Stratasys Direct Manufacturing finishing team sanded the parts to smooth natural layer lines left by the FDM process.

Similar to how younger generations can’t image a life without smart phones, Johnson hopes that children born after 2014 will never know a life without robots because of the Jimmy project. Elementary school students in New York City designed 10 of the first customized 3D CAD files for Jimmy’s debut at the 2014 World Maker Faire in New York City on September 20, 2014. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing donated the exoskeleton shown below to a student named Callim.

Go to to follow the 21st Century Robot story and to learn about availability of the robot platforms.