At the recent ICRA conference in Seattle, all talks were about this awesome self folding robot that can – hear this out- crawl, walk, climb, swim and even dissolve! This miniature robot was a result of extensive research carried out by researchers in computer science and artificial intelligence lab in MIT and the department of informatics of Technische Universitat, Germany in a paper named “An untethered miniature origami robot that self-folds, walks, swims and degrades”. A video is accompanied that shows the robot doing just the same.
Unfolded, the robot has a magnet and PVC sandwiched between laser cut structural layers (polystyrene or paper). How it folds: when placed on a heating element, the PVC contracts, and where the structural layers have been cut, it creates folds. The self-folding exercise takes place on a flat sheet; the robot folded itself in a few seconds.
Underneath it all, hidden like the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain, sit four electromagnetic coils, which turn on and off and makes the robot move forward in a direction set by its shape.
Okay, so this self folding robot walks, climbs and does what not. But how does it dissolve? The researchers demonstrated this by placing this robot in a tank of acetone, where all parts except the magnet dissolved. The minimal body design enabled the robot to completely dissolve in a liquid environment, which is pretty difficult to achieve if the robot had a different configuration and architecture.
These researchers propose future applications including self folding sensors into the body of the robot, which could lead to autonomous operation, and eventually inside the human body by decreasing its size possibly making it work as a medical device sent under the skin. Such autonomous 4-D printed robot could be used at unreachable sites, including those encountered in both in vivo and bionic biological treatment.
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