At an ICRA 2015 conference in Seattle, researchers from the computer science and artificial intelligence lab at MIT and the department of informatics, Technische Universitat in Germany, gleefully showed off their new origami robot that can self-fold, run, climb, swim and even dissolve.
Powered by two sets of magnets, the origami robot’s movements are the result of magnets cycling on and off at 15 Hz. The interaction between an integrated neodymium magnet and four electromagnetic coils creates vibrations that actuates the robot’s asymmetrical feet. The orgami robot can also float and swim thanks to its boat-shaped body.
The basics and future of this origami robot
The origami robot starts out as a flat-shaped object with a protruding central magnet surrounded by laser-cut structural layers made out of either polystyrene or paper. Once initiated, the robo self-folds into a complex shape when placed on a heat source that causes cuts made in the PVC layers to contract. The entire process takes less than a minute, and after assuming its shape, the robot is ready to scuttle around at a rate of 3 and 4 cm/sec.
According to IEEE’s Evan Ackerman, “This is the first time that a robot has been able to demonstrate a complete life cycle like this, and eventually, it’ll be doing it inside your body.”
Ackerman goes on to explain that the origami robot’s researchers’ next steps include fitting the little critter with sensors, enabling autonomous operation. The research paper’s authors state that “such autonomous ‘4D-printed’ robots could be used at unreachable sites, including those encountered in both in vivo and bionic biological treatment.”
And if this weren’t intriguing enough, once inside the body, the origami robot can also be timed or initiated to self-dissovle. Currently, when placed in a solution of acetone, the robot’s materials quickly dissolve, leaving no trace of its existence. Give this tech a few more decades of refinement, and no doubt they will be performing micro surgeries that will be far less invasive than current surgical procedures…so long as they don’t go haywire inside our bodies, of course.