VIDEO: Meet MIT’s Origami Robot

Tiny device can swim, climb and carry twice its weight.

Don’t be fooled by the unassuming nature of this origami robot. The tiny device – which weighs just a third of a gram – can swim, climb an incline and carry twice its weight. The robot was developed by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who presented the printable technology at the recent International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

The robot is made from a flat sheet of plastic, measures about a centimeter and folds up once heat is applied. “The entire walking motion is embedded into the mechanics of the robot body,” says Cynthia R. Sung, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science who worked on the device. “In previous [origami] robots, they had to design electronics and motors to actuate the body itself.”

The robot came about from a hypothetical application, which would see small sheets of material injected into the human body for medical purposes. The goal was for the sheet to fold itself up and then dissolve when its task was completed.

“We complete the cycle from birth through life, activity and the end of life,” says Shuhei Miyashita, who collaborated on the project. “The circle is closed.”

Source: MIT

Source: Christine Daniloff/ MIT

All of the team’s prototypes featured three layers: the middle one always consisted of polyvinyl chloride (the plastic used in plumbing pipes), which contracts with heat. The acetone-soluble prototype was made with polystyrene outer layers. 

The engineers used a laser cutter to insert slits into the outer layers, which helped the folding process. During experiments, they realized it started to fold at approximately 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The robot flexes once it folds up thanks to the application of a magnetic field to the magnet located on its back. A second sequence of magnetic fields helps the robot move forward by twisting the device’s body and breaking the front feet’s adhesion.

A prototype featuring electrically conductive layers was also developed as a potential sensor. According to the researchers, “Contact with other objects – whether chemical accretions in a mechanical system or microorganisms or cells in the body – would disrupt a current passing through the robot in a characteristic way and that electrical signal could be relayed to human operators.”

What are your thoughts about the tiny device and its applications? Let us know by commenting below. For more information on MIT’s origami robot, visit the university’s website.