Inexpensive robots that assemble themselves are hard to find these days. But using the ancient art of Japanese origami and a classic children's product, engineers at Harvard and MIT have created such a 'bot. A team led by a Harvard grad student built the self-folding robot shown in this video out of paper, batteries, a motor, and Shrinky Dinks, reports the Toronto Star—all for about $100. When project engineers want to "execute a particular fold" in the origami creature, they command its microprocessor to activate the teensy electronic circuits printed onto the robot; these, in turn, heat the Shrinky Dinks, which contract and pull the paper into a fold, explains NPR.
The experiment, published in the journal Science, was conceptualized as a possible way to construct robots quickly and on the cheap. "Robots are relatively difficult to fabricate, assemble, and transport," a Cornell scientist says in an email to the Star. "New digital fabrication techniques, such as 3D printing and origami folding, can alleviate this bottleneck." The applications for such technology could range from something as simple as a science project that stokes STEM students' excitement to sending flat sheets of paper that assemble themselves into satellites in space, notes the Star. Or, as NPR suggests, it could inspire a whole new generation of Transformers. (Wonder how the Pentagon's 'origami bot' is coming along.)