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Centimeter-Long Origami Robot

By MIT News

June 16, 2015

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At the recent International Conference on Robotics and Automation, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology presented a printable robot than can fold itself up from a flat sheet of plastic and is controlled remotely by a single permanent magnet.

The "origami" robot was only a centimeter long and weighed a third of gram, but was able to swim, climb an incline, traverse rough terrain, and carry a load twice its weight.

The robot is composed of a single, triple-layer sheet of plastic and a magnet. The middle layer of the plastic sheet is composed of polyvinyl chloride, which contracts when heated. Slits are cut into the sheet by a laser so the sheet will fold up into the robot when it is heated. The ways the slits are cut also enable the robot to move when an external magnetic field is applied to the magnet attached to the sheet.

The researchers say the robot was inspired by a hypothetical application in which tiny foldable robots are injected into the human body, navigate to an intervention site, fold themselves up and carry out their assigned tasks, and then dissolve. Another possible application is a foldable robot with an electrically-conductive skin that can act as a sensor floating in the body.

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