Starting as a flat polymer sheet, give it four minutes, and voila, you have a fully functional robot. Remember those ‘shinky dink’ toys when you were young? (or am I dating myself?) The ones that you placed into an oven, heated and in the meantime they shrunk?
Well, thanks to a whole lot of embedded electronics, some motors attached to the top side, hinges that have heating implements to cause them to fold - in a predetermined order, this robot whose design allows it to assemble itself autonomously. This ability makes it perfect for search-and-rescue missions in collapsed buildings such as those after a tornado ravages an area or anything sort of action required that involves a tight and confined space.
Partly inspired by origami, the process involves turning a simple sheet of paper into a complicated 3-D shape. A shape-memory composite that recreates fundamental folded patterns in computational origami transforms into self assembling, autonomous creations. They even offer what can best be described as water wheels!
The same principles that have been explored and fine tuned can be exploited for use with meta-materials. For use in space- on an asteroid or on a planet, on the ISS, on Mars, in Kansas, in Japan or other sites where humans cannot wander freely but a robot could.
The video link included below demonstrates the self-folding concept.
BUT even better than the self folding concept or at least as good is the fact that the costly part, the research into how, the design formation, is done. Only $11,000 was spent on this project and even cooler now that the design is all done, such robots are expected to cost a mere $100 to build. (There is a motor, batteries, etc. but really affordable!) Townships could afford to buy one or two or six for search and rescue work, NASA could afford several carried in case of emergency in space, as a tight spot in space could stand between the mission & just sitting dead in the water. AND you or I could get one just, well, just because!
The method employed has allowed researchers to rapidly manufacture There are still minor kinks to work out such as control of the robot, but something this cool has obviously tackled problems far more substantial!
It should come as no surprise that the team that has developed this is at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Their goal in developing this; “Our big dream is to make the fabrication of robots fast and inexpensive,” says Daniela Rus – the Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
The next step? This method will already allows researchers to produce quickly what is actually a complex robot. Each completed robot could now been customized for its particular function. The hope is that this should lead to atomic scale machines that will be programmed to move from flat to fat and then perform the necessary mechanical functions