Origami robots: the future of the flat-pack?

While the Transformers have dazzled thousands with their shape-shifting abilities, real-life robots have so far been unable to master the art of self-assembly. Up until now, that is.

8th August 2014

While the Transformers have dazzled thousands with their shape-shifting abilities, real-life robots have so far been unable to master the art of self-assembly. Up until now, that is.

Scientists in the US have built a robot that's capable of morphing from a flat sheet into an origami-like structure in a matter of minutes.

To build the robot, the team, from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, layered together paper, copper and a special 'shape-memory' polymer that's able to change form when heated. A laser was used to cut the materials into a specific pattern set out by origami design software, ensuring that the robot flexed in all the right places. Heat-generating circuits could then trigger parts of the polymer to fold and act as hinges.

The machine is dormant until the battery is attached, at which point it begins to activate as different ‘hinges’ are triggered step by step. Once the polymer has cooled and hardened, the robot can scurry off on its four legs, controlled by two separate motors (image credit: Seth Kroll, Wyss Institute)

The technology behind this shape-shifting superstar has a wide variety of potential applications. Robots could be delivered to confined spaces such as collapsed buildings before assembling to help survivors. The machines' flattened shape would also mean that large quantities of them could be packed and transported together, no assembly required. Could this be the future of flat-pack furniture? It'd certainly make those DIY sessions a lot less stressful...

By David Busse

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