Researchers from Harvard, MIT, and Cornell have collaborated to create what is arguagly the first real-world Transformer. Inspired by the Japanese art of origami, the team's folding robot can rearrange in minutes from a flat-packed sheet into a strong, motile, structurally complex body plan – without any help from human hands.
"Getting a robot to assemble itself autonomously and actually perform a function has been a milestone we've been chasing for many years," said Harvard's Robert J. Wood in a statement. Wood is a senior author on the paper describing the robot in the latest issue of Science.
"You can imagine a folded sheet of some material and popping in defects to make a stiff shield, or somehow deploying an object and giving it a rigid backbone," added Cornell physicist and study collaborator Itai Cohen. "You can think of it as appendages that can be locked in place or a useful tool whose properties can be set once it has been deployed."
"It is amazing," Cohen continues, "that there are so many hidden scientific research problems buried in just a simple sheet of paper."
Each robot costs about $100 bucks to make – $80 for the motors, batteries and power controller, and around $20 for the body. The body is made out of paper, of course, and – get this – Shrinky Dinks. Shrinky Dinks!