A team of researchers from Harvard and MIT have developed a new kind of robot – one that’s capable of autonomously folding itself up into particular functional shapes and then going about its tasks.
“Getting a robot to assemble itself autonomously and actually perform a function has been a milestone we’ve been chasing for many years,” researcher Robert J. Wood said in a press release.
The researchers found their inspiration from both nature and art. Part of the inspiration for these robots is origami, where a single flat piece of paper can be folded into a variety of different and functional shapes. They were also inspired by self-assembly in the natural world, such as how chains of amino acids form complex protein shapes, or the way a flower naturally opens up.
Starting from a flat shape, the robots themselves take about four minutes to assemble themselves into the shapes they need, and then walk away. How do they do it? The key lies in the materials that the robots themselves are made of. That’s a 2-dimensional surface of several layers, including paper, flexible circuits, and stretched polystyrene.
(If you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, you might know “stretched polystyrene” by another name – Shrinky Dinks.)
When the robots are built, there are hinges at key spots that allow the material to fold into different shapes. When triggered by the on-board microcontroller, the circuits send out heat which triggers the stretched polystyrene to harden (just like a Shrinky Dink). Different shapes can be made based on the location of the hinges and where and how much heat is applied.
Once the robot is cooled after the folding process, it’s then able to crawl away to perform whatever task is necessary. (Although right now, the prototype doesn’t do much but fold and crawl – next steps for the team include figuring out different tasks that can be performed.)
One fascinating thing about this process is how cheap it is. The robot itself, all told, only costs about $100 to make as a prototype. And building a robot to function in a particular way takes little more than an hour. The research team also plans on experimenting with other polymers to enable different types of folding and function.
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.
Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.
Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!
Maker Business — To make it through a tough business cycle, layoffs should be a last resort
Wearables — Make it pink!
Electronics — SMT Tip – Stop moving around!
Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: PyCon US, Mother’s Day, KiCad and more! #Python #Adafruit #CircuitPython @micropython @ThePSF
Adafruit IoT Monthly — IoT Pool Monitor, Edge AI, and more!
Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Arcade Spring Update
EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey
New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — New Products 5/12/2021 Featuring Adafruit Rotary Trinkey – USB
No comments yet.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.