Self-Assembling Robot Utilizes Origami Techniques to Spring to Life

Friday, 08 Aug 2014 11:31 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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A self-assembling robot that begins as a flat sheet of material was recently engineered using origami techniques by researchers at Harvard and MIT.

Made from cheap hobby shop materials, the prototype could be the start of what may be a long-envisioned robotic revolution, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

"Getting a robot to assemble itself autonomously and actually perform a function has been a milestone we’ve been chasing for many years," said Harvard engineering professor Rob Wood. He and his team published their work this week in the journal Science.

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The team's robot springs to life without human assistance in roughly four minutes, rising from a flat sheet into a walking, crab-like creature. Techniques developed to create the machine could be used in a wide variety of situations, said researchers, including space exploration as well as cramped search-and-rescue environments.

"This is a simple, flexible, and rapid design process and a step toward the dream of realizing the vision of 24-hour robot manufacturing," said study co-author Daniela Rus of MIT. She said robots are typically very costly to make and move around, but that these techniques allow for fast and cheap robot design — especially coupled with the rise of 3-D printing.

Robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks, an MIT emeritus professor who wasn't part of the research, agreed, adding that "Lots more people will join in working on these techniques, each making incremental progress and decades from now we'll wonder why it took so long to get where we'll then be with it."

The robots, whose joints activate with heat, were partially inspired by the children's toy Shrinky Dinks, which shrink and fold when put in the oven, said the team. Some of the smaller versions of the robot cost as little as $100.

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