The bot starts life as a thin, postage stamp-sized wafer made of PVC, sandwiched between laser-cut structural layers of either polystyrene or paper. When placed on a heated surface, the PVC layer will contract, which, thanks to a series of strategically placed cuts, causes the bot to fold up into an origami shape with legs and a body.
Once it’s taken this form, the tiny little robot (which only weighs a third of a gram), is capable of walking around, carrying a load twice its weight, swimming, and even dissolving itself when it’s all said and done.
To make this possible, the robot (if you can even call it that?) carries a small neodymium magnet on its back. When this magnet is exposed to an external magnetic field, it begins to oscillate, thereby causing the robot itself to vibrate along with it. As this happens, the robot’s back and front legs contact the ground in an alternating fashion, which, thanks to it’s asymmetrical design and intentionally off-center balance point, causes the bot to slowly wiggle its way forward.
The amazing thing that, by doing little more than changing the frequency of the external magnetic field, it’s possible to steer the bot around and have it perform various tasks. In the video above, the researchers show of its ability to walk or swim around in a certain pattern, dig through piles, and even push other objects to a different location.
When the bot has completed its mission (whatever it may be), it can also autonomously destroy itself to hide the evidence. The bot will slowly dissolve if dunked into a pool of acetone, leaving nothing behind but the neodymium magnet is once bore.
It doesn’t have a lot of practical applications at this point, but moving forward, the researchers who created the bot hope to shrink it down and integrate sensors into its hull. Eventually, the goal is to design super small, completely autonomous robots like this that can work inside of the human body.