A team of engineers from Harvard and MIT used little more than paper and Shrinky dinks to craft a robot that assembles itself into a complex shape in just four minutes and crawls away without any human intervention.
“Getting a robot to assemble itself autonomously and actually perform a function has been a milestone we’ve been chasing for many years,” researcher Robert J. Wood said in a press release.
The researchers were inspired by both nature and art. Origami is a Japanese art of paper folding where a plain paper can be folded into a variety of different and functional shapes. The concept was also based on self-assembly in the natural world, such as how chains of amino acids build up into complex protein shapes or the way a flower opens its petals.
The materials used are paper, flexible circuits, and stretched polystyrene. When the robots are built, there are hinges at key spots that allow the material to transform into different shapes. When triggered by the on-board microcontroller, the circuit generates heat which triggers the stretched polystyrene to shrink. Different shapes can be made based on the location of the hinges and where and how much heat is applied.
Another interesting thing about this project is the cost. The prototype costs about $100 and takes a little more than an hour.
Watch the video below that describes the project and the robots in action.