Feeds

Tiny transforming bots: Meet these self-assembling 'thoughtful' droids

Flat-packed bots build themselves, turn... walk away

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Rise of the Machines Engineers have come up with self-folding robots that can put themselves together and crawl away on their own – although batteries must be included.

Three stages of the origami robots assembling

Three stages of the origami robots assembling. (Credit: Seth Kroll)

Foldable ‘bots are nothing new, but this is the first time that scientists have come up with a robot that can fold itself into arbitrary shapes and then toddle off under its own steam without any external help.

The boffins were apparently inspired by the Japanese art of origami.

"The exciting thing here is that you create this device that has computation embedded in the flat, printed version," said Daniela Rus, prof of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and co-designer. "And when these devices lift up from the ground into the third dimension, they do it in a thoughtful way."

In the experiment, the robots can self-assemble from flat sheets of paper and shape memory polymers – which change shape when heated above 100˚ Celsius – with embedded electronics. The flattened ‘bot transforms itself into a functional machine in around four minutes and can then crawl away at a speed of around 5.4cm a second and turn, all without human interaction.

"Folding allows you to avoid the 'nuts and bolts' assembly approaches typically used for robots or other complex electromechanical devices and it allows you to integrate components (e.g., electronics, sensors, actuators) while flat," said Rob Wood, prof of engineering and applied sciences at Harvard, and a member of the robot team.

“Traditional manufacturing requires expensive machinery, and 3D printing is too slow for mass production, but planar composites can be rapidly built with inexpensive tools like laser cutters and etch tanks, and then folded into functional machines. Such manufacturing methods would be ideal for producing 100-1000 units," he added.

“These robots are inexpensive and [their] layered composites can be built faster than equivalent 3-D printed structures.”

Five layers go into the robot’s structure – a middle layer of copper, sandwiched between two structural layers of paper and surrounded by two outer layers of the polymer. After the laser-cut materials are layered, a microprocessor and one or more small motors are attached to the top surface. In the test, the researchers used two motors to control the legs, one each for two robot appendages.

To get the robots folding up, the team used hinges with embedded heating circuits that activate folding at the right temperature. The placement of the hinges and the order in which they get triggered decides what shape the robot will end up in.

"Cyclic folds are used by a software program called 'Origamizer' as building blocks to create any polyhedron," explained Felton. "We've discovered that we can [use this approach] to create a wide variety of structures and machines."

The robots have obvious potential as search-and-rescue machines, since they’re small enough to navigate small tunnels or spaces and they fact that they can be shipped flat and then assembled on-site makes them even more useful. Larger versions could also be used as self-folding shelters for explorers to use on inhospitable terrain or even in space. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.