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MIT’s Origami Robot

MIT's self-folding robot can walk and swim on top of fluids. (Photo credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT)
MIT’s self-folding robot can walk and swim on top of fluids. (Photo credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT)

MIT researchers have built origami robots. When heated, the paper thin, previously flat robots folds up into a predetermined shape that allows them to move along a solid surface or float on top of a liquid and move around like a little boat.
Each robot weighs just a third of an ounce but can carry twice that amount. The motion of the robots can be controlled using external magnetic fields.
“The entire walking motion is embedded into the mechanics of the robot body,” Cynthia R. Sung, of the robot’s developers and an MIT graduate student, said in a statement. “In previous [origami] robots, they had to design electronics and motors to actuate the body itself.”
A permanent magnet on the back of the robot responds to changes in the magnetic field, causing the robot to twist and move.
The base of the robots are also the first to be able to dissolve in a liquid. Some of the prototypes dissolve in water, while others dissolve in acetone. All the bots consist of three carefully crafted layers, though the ingredients vary.
The team used a laser cutter to carefully cut slits into the outer layers of the to robots. These layers guide the folding process. The relative width of the slits on either side of the center layer determine the folding pattern. When the middle layer contracts, the edges of the narrower slit come together, bending the sheet in the opposite direction.

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