In the “first world,” we take digital displays and everyday conveniences like printers for granted, and rarely think about their impact. But those methods of conveying information are relatively expensive, are made from unsustainable resources, and create toxic waste. That’s a big price to pay just to display some information, which is why a team of researchers from the United Kingdom’s Swansea University and India’s IIT Bombay have developed Sustainabot to print images using just about any available material.
People in many developing countries lack access to devices that we take for granted in “first world” countries. For example, a modern desktop computer is rare for the average person in most developing countries. But, in the past few years, it has become very common for those same people to have smartphones. That’s because they’re affordable, extremely versatile, and the infrastructure to utilize them is in place, while traditional internet services rarely are. Unfortunately, a smartphone’s screen is too small to easily share information with other people, and groups of people in particular.
That’s where Sustainabot comes in. It’s a small 3D-printable robot powered by an inexpensive 8-bit microcontroller and a Bluetooth module. Users connect to the robot via an Android app, and can send simple pictures or diagrams to be printed. The robot will then drive around any flat surface and deposit whatever material is in its hopper, such as salt, sugar, sand, or any other granular substance. Its capable of drawing either dot-matrix images, or line drawings. The idea is that people in developing countries can use Sustainabot to draw presentation images using readily-available and sustainable materials, which would be especially useful for education.