A team of MIT researchers have developed a printable origami robot that folds itself up from a flat sheet of plastic when heated and measures about a centimeter from front to back.
The robot’s design was motivated by a hypothetical application in which tiny sheets of material would be injected into the human body, navigate to an intervention site, fold themselves up, and, when they had finished their assigned tasks, dissolve. To that end, the researchers built their prototypes from liquid-soluble materials. One prototype robot dissolved almost entirely in acetone (the permanent magnet remained); another had components that were soluble in water.
In all of the researchers’ prototypes, the self-folding sheets had three layers. The middle layer always consisted of polyvinyl chloride, a plastic commonly used in plumbing pipes, which contracts when heated. In the acetone-soluble prototype, the outer layers were polystyrene.
Slits cut into the outer layers by a laser cutter guide the folding process. If two slits on opposite sides of the sheet are of different widths, then when the middle layer contracts, it forces the narrower slit’s edges together, and the sheet bends in the opposite direction. In their experiments, the researchers found that the sheet would begin folding at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the robot has folded itself up, the proper application of a magnetic field to the permanent magnet on its back causes its body to flex. The friction between the robot’s front feet and the ground is great enough that the front feet stay fixed while the back feet lift. Then, another sequence of magnetic fields causes the robot’s body to twist slightly, which breaks the front feet’s adhesion, and the robot moves forward.
tThe researchers positioned the robot on a rectangular stage with an electromagnet at each of its four corners. They were able to vary the strength of the electromagnets’ fields rapidly enough that the robot could move nearly four body lengths a second.
In addition to the liquid-soluble versions of their robot, the researchers also built a prototype whose outer layers were electrically conductive
SOURCES – Youtube, Technology Review