A team of researchers at Harvard University has designed a robot that utilizes the ancient art of paper-folding to gain autonomous movement. Due to some ingenious thinking, the project can transform from a flat piece of paper to an upright walking robot in just four minutes.
“Getting a robot to assemble itself autonomously and actually perform a function has been a milestone we’ve been chasing for many years,” Head researcher Robert Wood reminisces. Though it may have taken about 40 different prototypes, the team has finally settled on a design they believe could change the way we think about robotics. The team envisions that their creation could be deployed in harsh environments, such as battlefields, disaster areas or even outer space.
The flat machine is comprised of a hybrid sheet of paper and polystyrene (the main polymer behind the children’s toy Shrinky Dinks), two motors, two batteries and a microcontroller. There are hinges built into the sheet that, thanks to the MCU, are programmed to fold certain directions and angles. Even better? Each one only cost about $100.
The hinges contain embedded circuits that warm up when power is applied and contract to create the folds. Once cooled, the polystyrene in the hinges hardens and the rigid structure allows for the robot to effectively move.
One of the team’s researchers, Sam Felton, outlined a vision for the technology, “Imagine a ream of dozens of robotic satellites sandwiched together so that they could be sent up to space. “ He believes the units could then assemble themselves remotely once they get there. They could take images, collect data, and more. The possibilities for such a hands-off technology are truly endless.
“It’d be like having a MakerBot 3-D printer, but this would be a BotMaker,” NBC News writes.
Robert Wood looks toward a futuristic one-stop robot shop where you “would be able to come in, describe what you need in fairly basic terms, and come back an hour later to get your robotic helper.” Are you sick of raking all of those leaves? Let a printable robot do it for you!
To read Harvard’s full press release on this brilliant innovation, head over to their website.