The Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory, better known for building tiny robots that fly and crawl, has built a robot that can fold itself into different shapes.
OK, it only folds into two shapes: the classic paper boat and paper airplane. But it does it automatically when electrical current is applied to the Nitinol hinges bridging the stiff fiberglass triangles in the robot’s flat body. (The edges of each triangle are lined with a flexible silicone rubber to give the robot joints). There’s no reason that other shapes aren’t possible – researchers just have to figure out the folding pattern and make a sheet large enough to include all the folds.
Just think – paper boats today could eventually lead to refoldable hats, reconfigurable toys, or fantastically intricate and mobile folded sculptures. (I’d like a movable version of this fantastic owl by Robert Lang, please.)
(photo © Robert J. Lang)
UPDATE 7/31/10: Members of the lab will be demonstrating some of their robots at the Museum of Science in Boston next Saturday (August 7th, 2010). If you're in town, stop by to see them in action.