Turn your back on this seemingly flat piece of hardware, and it just might fold itself into a crab and scuttle away. Using origami-inspired computing, researchers have built a crawling robot that assembles itself in 4 minutes, as shown in the above video. The team made a five-layer composite out of paper, a flexible circuit board, and shape-memory polymers that contract when heated to 100°C. Heat generated locally by the embedded circuits triggers hinges in the composite to fold, while mechanical features in the composite determine how far and in what direction each hinge bends. The precise folding pattern is generated by origami design software and programmed into the robot’s microcontroller. Once the machine is assembled, a motor interacts with linkage structures in its legs to drive it crawling and turning without human intervention. The researchers hope this early prototype will eventually lead to cheap, quick, and customized robot manufacture. One possibility: mass deploying the flat robots into collapsed buildings to navigate small spaces in search-and-rescue missions.
(Video credit: Samuel Felton, Science/AAAS)