Whether it sends your jaw to the floor or creeps you out, there’s no denying that this ‘origami robot’ is pretty darn awesome.
Inspired by the Japanese art of paper folding, a team of researchers at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has managed to create a robot that self-assembles in just a few minutes before scuttling off to embark on its mission.
A report this week in the journal Science describes how the innovative robot, which is still in the development stage, starts out as a flat sheet containing embedded electronics, batteries and motors.
The sheet actually comprises the same polystyrene plastic material used in the Shrinky Dinks toy, which shrinks when placed in a hot oven. A layer of paper helps to stiffen the sheet, adding strength to the structure.
As a built-in heater warms the sheet, contractions in specific creased areas cause the robot to take shape. Once it’s assembled itself, it can set to work.
You can check out the extraordinary process in the video below, which shows in full how the robot transforms itself from flat sheet into walking contraption. Anyone who lives with the fear that an army of robots will one day rise up and take over the world should probably give the video a miss.
No human intervention
“This origami-inspired robot can fold itself in four minutes and walk away without human intervention, demonstrating the potential both for complex self-folding machines and autonomous, self-controlled assembly,” the team said, adding that with folding patterns derived from computational origami, it’s possible to create a whole myriad of shapes and constructions.
Indeed, the researchers envisage the technology could ultimately be used for self-assembling satellites or in disaster situations where a location is hard to access. For example, an earthquake zone littered with destroyed buildings could see the robots slotted into near-inaccessible spaces, where they could then self-assemble, explore a location, and relay important information about the site to rescue workers.
Speaking to Nature magazine about the creation, MIT’s Daniela Rus, one of the study’s authors, said she hoped the team’s work will make robots more affordable and simpler to produce, helping to “democratize access to robots.”
She added, “Our big dream is to make the fabrication of robots fast and inexpensive.”