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Origami Robot Folds Up, Swims, Digs, Then Dissolves

MIT’s larger robots may be able to run at 30 mph in an open field and now leap over obstacles, but its smaller ones can transform out of creased polystyrene and then destroy themselves.

The tiny origami robot squirming about above is made of nothing but a sheet of heat-sensitive material, a permanent magnet, and some clever folding. Once placed on a heating element, the bot bends and shapes itself according to the folds impressed on it.


From there, the bot is ready to squirm around. However, its movement is deceptive — there is no motor on board. Rather, a series on magnets placed underneath it rapidly switch off and on, and the asymmetric design of the “legs” causes the folded contraption to wiggle in a certain direction.

With the help of the magnets, Shuhei Miyashita, Steven Guitron, Marvin Ludersdorfer, Cynthia R. Sung, and Daniela Rus of MIT and TU Munich have gotten this origami creation to swim over water, dig through small piles of obstacles, and carry loads double its own weight.


The folding pattern shown in the video demonstration isn’t the only option either. Different foldings could suit the robot for other tasks — different heating gradients could even shape the robot in stages for more functionality. And after the robot outlives its usefulness? It can destroy itself in a pool of acetone.


According to IEEE Spectrum, the researchers hope that this robot will one day complete its life-cycle inside a person. The internal heat of a body could feasibly cause the small sheet to fold, after which magnets could steer it around to its directive, eventually dissolving itself somewhere within you when its job is done. Kinda sweet if you think about it.

HT: IEEE Spectrum

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