Self-Assembling Origami Robots


MIT engineers have developed a technique to address the challenges involved in manufacturing robots at a cheap and accessible level. Like a plant folding out its petals, a protein folding into shape, or an insect unveiling its wings, this autonomous origami design demonstrated the ability for a mechanical creature to assemble itself and walk away. The technique opens up the possibility of unleashing swarms of flat robots into hard to reach places. Once on site, the robots mobilize from the ground up.

The team behind the project used flexible print circuit boards made out of paper and polystyrene, which is a synthetic aromatic polymer typically found in the commercially sold children’s toy Shrinky Dinks™. Each hinge had embedded circuits that were mechanically programmed to fold at certain angles. Heat was applied to the composite structure triggering the folding process. After about four minutes, the hinges would cool allowing the polystyrene to harden. Some issues did arise though during the initial design phase due to the amount of electrical current running the robots, which was ten times that of a regular light bulb. This caused the original prototypes to burn up before the construction operation was completed.

In the long-term, Core Faculty Member [Robert] would like to have a facility that would provide everyday robotic assistance to anyone in the surrounding community. This place would be accessible to everyone in the neighborhood helping to solve whatever problems might arise, which sounds awfully like a hackerspace to us. Whether the person required a device to detect gas leaks or a porch sweeping robot, the facility would be there to aid the members living nearby.

A video of [Robert] and [Sam] describing the project comes up after the break:

16 thoughts on “Self-Assembling Origami Robots

  1. NOT self-assembling (title). The idea is to safe space. It is NOT about “self-replicating” or “self-assembling” robots like the press all over the world has been putting it for about a week now.
    Yes, sure, that idea is “in the future” of this project. But right away it is about saving space and have the robots UNFOLD THEMSELVES.

  2. Although the end product is pretty cool and impressive, it does not seem terribly useful. It seems that their skills and resources might be better spent otherwise. Sure, I understand that all ideas (like self assembling robots) have to start somewhere, but this is kinda dinky.

    1. I was waiting for it and sure enough at 1:52 he throws in the oft-used hook phrase ‘or… or… on the battlefield’ without as usual providing even any sort of idea what possibly for.
      What is it about new and cool things that when quizzed about the invention’s benefits their inventors automatically clutch at some nebulous military potential? Is it to possibly eye off future funding?

        1. I am not sure about other countries, but here in the USA the military seems to be the biggest supporter of technology which could be possibly used to hurt someone else. for example Nuclear technology. the bomb (1945) was invented before the generator (1954).

  3. I think some of the commenter are missing the point. shore this device doesn’t log into amazon and order its own parts that would be obesity seeing as it doesn’t exist yet. what this dose is assemble a series of collected parts into a functional device. similar to the way the human body uses DAN to assemble protein chains. this is also a prototype as such future models would have more mechanical complexity to them. if you think about a robot building another robot by laser cutting a circuit and then applying voltage to manipulate its shape this has great potential for self replication.

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