Washington: Using just papers and Shrinky dinks - the classic children's toy that shrinks when heated - scientist have build a robot that assembles itself into a complex shape in four minutes flat and crawls away without any human intervention.
The design relies upon the power of origami - the ancient Japanese art whereby a single sheet of paper can be folded into complex structures.
“Imagine a ream of dozens of robotic satellites sandwiched together so that they could be sent up to space and then assemble themselves remotely once they get there. They could take images, collect data and more," explained lead author Sam Felton from Harvard University's school of engineering and applied sciences (SEAS).
The team including engineers and computer scientists from the Wyss Institute, SEAS and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a full electromechanical system that was embedded into one flat sheet.
They used computer design tools to inform the optimal design and fold pattern.
After about 40 prototypes, they found one that could fold itself up and walk away.
Felton then fabricated the sheet using a solid ink printer, a laser machine and his hands.
The origami-inspired approach enabled the team to avoid the traditional “nuts and bolts” approach to assembling complex machines.
“We started with a flat sheet, to which they added two motors, two batteries and a microcontroller - which acts like the robot's brain,” Felton informed.
The sheet also included hinges that were programmed to fold at specific angles.
Each hinge contained embedded circuits that produce heat on command from the microcontroller. The heat triggers the composite to self-fold in a series of steps.
The entire event consumed about the same amount of energy in one AA alkaline battery.
“The current robot operates on a timer, waiting about 10 seconds after the batteries are installed to begin folding,” Felton noted.
“Getting a robot to assemble itself autonomously and actually perform a function has been a milestone we have been chasing for many years,” said senior author Rob Wood from the Wyss Institute for Biologically-Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.
Each robot cost about $100 but only $20 for the body without the motors, batteries and microcontroller.
The findings were described in the journal Science.