This tiny, self-folding robot could one day be part of a large ant-like swarm

Call it a misspent youth playing with Optimus Prime and Megatron toys if you want, but there’s just something about transforming robots that always captures our imagination. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, recently appealed to this part of our nature by developing a miniature, centimeter-scale self-folding robot, which can assemble itself from out of a flat sheet and then shimmy along the ground by vibrating. Oh, yes, and it’s designed to work in a swarm, too.

“The goal of this project is to leverage self-folding techniques developed by my group and others to fabricate insect-inspired swarm robots,” Michael Tolley, assistant professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, told Digital Trends. “The rapid fabrication of self-folding robots is similar to the concept of ‘4D printing’ — where the 4th dimension is changes in shape over time, caused by a smart material after printing. We see this as a way to realize rapidly deployable robot swarms for mapping or sensor network deployment for applications including disaster response or extraplanetary exploration.”

uc san diego self folding robot swarm flatrobot

The new robots are made using composite laminates, including paperboard and spring steel which gives them their strength, kapton for providing flexibility, a polystyrene shape memory material that controls the self-folding, and an adhesive which binds the multiple layers together. Currently, the electronic components are soldered on top, although this may be automated in future versions. The folding process is controlled using a heating circuit, which is disconnected once the folding has been completed.

uc san diego self folding robot swarm foldedrobot

Going forward, Tolley said that the team is interested in exploring how multiple self-folding robots could be used to carry out limited tasks collectively, much like a swarm of robotic ants.

“As with most of the projects in my lab, this work is inspired by biological systems,” he said. “Social insects like ants serve as a great example for how to achieve complex goals, like searching for and collecting food, with a set of simple agents. We hope to develop a robotic system that can assist humans, but with individual robots that are simple and inexpensive enough that they can be deployed in hazardous environments.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: 1-handed drone control, a pot that stirs itself

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Gaming

These are the best Xbox One games available right now

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From 'Cuphead' to 'Halo 5,' the best Xbox One games offer something for everyone.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in November, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Dracula’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

‘Pacific Rim’ and ‘Altered Carbon’ anime series headed to Netflix

Netflix will bring a bunch of new anime series to its streaming library in 2019, including shows based on the Pacific Rim movie franchise and the live-action, sci-fi series Altered Carbon.
Emerging Tech

Shipping crate filled with 3D-printing robots may be the future of construction

Autodesk has created a robot-filled shipping container which may represent the future of construction work. The crate contains two robots able to 3D print custom components for building sites.
Emerging Tech

Michigan’s former transportation chief has some advice for wannabe smart cities

After 31 years as Michigan’s transportation director, Kirk Steudle has seen it all, particularly with smart city projects. He spoke with Digital Trends recently about what makes smart cities work, and offers advice along the way.
Emerging Tech

Sticking these tiny needles in your eye may help fight blindness

An eye patch covered in tiny needles sounds like a torture device. In fact, it's a potential new medical treatment for eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Bottle-flipping robots may be the most millennial thing we’ve ever seen

Until drones start vaping, you're unlikely to see anything more millennial than a recent contest in Japan in which robots competed to pull off some seriously impressive bottle-flipping feats.
Emerging Tech

New simulation shows how Elon Musk’s internet satellite network might work

Elon Musk has the dream of building a network for conveying internet traffic via thousands of satellites. A new simulation created by a computer scientist looks at how feasible the idea is.
Cars

Car parts maker ZF is using drones to deliver components to its factories

ZF recently became the first entity in Germany to receive approval to use drones to deliver spare parts, and the company now uses them to deliver parts from its central warehouses to its workshops.
Emerging Tech

This fully autonomous $400 drone folds like a book, follows you like a paparrazzo

Having a drone that could follow you everywhere while taking high-quality images without crashing has been a flight of fantasy. With ZeroZero's Hover 2, not only can you have a fully autonomous 4K selfie drone, you can have it for $400.
Emerging Tech

These Alexa-stuffed retro phones don’t listen until you take them off the hook

Looking for an Amazon Echo with a cool vintage touch? Los Angeles-based Grain Design is taking old, non-working antique phones and transforming them into amazing Alexa smart speakers.
Smart Home

This alarm clock uses targeted light and sound to wake you, but not your partner

The Wake v2 isn't like your typical bedside alarm. Instead, it wakes you by shining a soft light directly into your face, thereby not disturbing the person sharing a bed with you. Pretty smart, huh?
Emerging Tech

Believe it or not, this fire-proof exoskeleton isn’t designed for space marines

A company called Levitate Technologies has developed a fire-resistant upper body exoskeleton that’s capable of lowering exertion levels by up to 80 percent when you carry out manual work.