How’s this for a news story ‒ a team of scientists create a robot that can fold into a different shape, carry certain items, swim, walk and even destroy itself. As crazy as that may sound, an international team of researchers has created a robot with all of these capabilities. Known as a “origami robot,” the creators of this machine believe that such technology could one day be able to operate inside the human body.
Plastic and Magnets
At first glance, the origami robot may not seem especially impressive. When unfolded, the machine has a flat, square shape, with each side measuring only 1.7 centimeters in length. The materials that make up the robot may likewise seem rather ordinary; a magnet, a sheet of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and layers of polystyrene or paper, which were cut with lasers. PVC and polystyrene are both forms of plastic; the former’s flexible nature allows it to be used to make everything from pipes to cable coatings, whereas the latter is often molded into items such as plates and cups.
A Small Creation with Big Potential
The appearance of the robot changes drastically, however, when it is exposed to heat. A rise in temperature causes the device to fold; within a minute, the robot resembles an origami piece. Furthermore, the device has the ability to morph into more than one design; a low amount of heat could result in one shape, while the machine can take on a different form in response to higher heat levels.
In addition to possessing this shape-shifting trait, the robot is also able to move with the aid of four embedded coils. From their position underneath the robot, these coils create an intermittent electromagnetic field. In turn, both the robot’s magnet and the robot itself begin to vibrate, causing the device’s legs to hit the surface below. These appendages contact the ground in an alternating pattern, enabling the bot to walk from point to point.
Though it waddles as it moves and has a strange, non-symmetrical structure, the origami robot is capable of transporting objects that outweigh it by a two-to-one margin. It can traverse across human skin, power its way up ramps and swim through shallow pools of water. This diminutive machine also boasts a sort of self-destruct mechanism. Directing the robot into a container of acetone (a volatile, colorless liquid) destroys most of the robot’s body, leaving behind only its tiny magnet.
More Robots to Come?
The research team believes that their creation could lay the groundwork for more advanced robots. Theoretically, such machines would be able to complete a task within a human body, and subsequently terminate themselves once their mission is accomplished.
The origami robot is the product of a collaborative effort between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Germany’s Technische Universität München (TU Munich). MIT researchers demonstrated the device’s abilities at the 2015 International Conference on Robotics and Automation, which was held in the city of Seattle.