The robot can manipulate its own shape. Image Credit: YouTube / New Scientist
Microrobotics engineers have built a robot that is both mobile and capable of folding itself in to shape.
Developed at Harvard University, the real-life Transformer consists of a butterfly-shaped net of panels that the robot can manipulate in to a shape that enables it to shamble along using two battery-powered microcircuits attached to each side.
Inspired by Japanese origami, the contraption is able to fold its panels, which are made from a sheet of memory plastic, by heating the interconnecting copper tracks.
The engineering team hopes that robots like this could one day prove invaluable in helping to find earthquake survivors trapped in rubble. By changing its shape the robot would have an advantage in exploring narrow gaps through which conventional robots would never be able to fit.
"I think what this Harvard team have done is great," said Chris Melhuish of the UK's Bristol Robotics Laboratory. "If you're clever, you can design the material so that its shape is in charge of the robot's self-organisation rather than a complicated and expensive computer. That is precisely what they have done here – it is promising stuff."