Transformers are Here: Origami Robot
Folding robots are nothing new, but scientists from Harvard and MIT have taken it to the next level, by designing one that assembles itself and walks away to do its job with zero human input. The robots start out as a flat sheet of paper and polystyrene plastic etched with strategically placed hinges. Since those materials aren’t enough to make a full-fledged robot, the scientists also placed a flexible circuit board in the middle (with circuits extending to every hinge), two motors, a micro controller and two batteries. It’s the micro controller that’s in charge of activating the circuits to produce heat on command, which then leads to the flat sheet folding itself like an origami. When the hinges cool after a few minutes and the polystyrene hardens, the micro controller commands the robot to scuttle away and do its thing. The alien robots that feature in the Transformer movies conceal their true nature by taking on the form of cars and trucks. The scientists’ robot has yet to reach that level of technical deception and disguises itself – for now, at least – as a robot that has been flattened. The flat-pack robot uses “shape memory polymers” that contract like muscles when they are heated. The robot takes about four minutes to assemble from scratch and can walk at a speed of around 5 cm per second.