BOSTON (Reuters) - Scientists say they
have developed a low-cost robot prototype made from paper and children's
trinkets that can assemble itself and perform a task without human help.
The technology could eventually lead to affordable 'robotic
helpers' for use in everything from household chores to exploring
space, according to the team of Harvard and Massachusetts Institute
of Technology engineers who developed it.
"Getting a robot to assemble itself autonomously and actually
perform a function has been a milestone we've been chasing for many
years," said Rob Wood of Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied
Sciences. The prototype was jointly announced by Harvard and MIT on
The team's robot prototype borrows mechanical principles from the
ancient Japanese paper-folding art of origami, as well as from
Shrinky Dinks - plastic children's toys that shrink into predictable
shapes when heated.
The prototype was made from a flat sheet of composite paper,
embedded with Shrinky Dink bits, hinges, motors, batteries, and a
microcontroller. Once the batteries are placed in the robot, it
begins to fold into shape and perform its task.
In this case, it crawls away at a speed of one-tenth of a mile per
hour. But the engineers have high hopes the low-budget robots will
eventually become more useful.
Wood said they could one day be printed on 3D printers, sold in
stores for $100, and programed to do things such as sweep your porch
or detect gas leaks in your neighborhood.
"You would be able to come in, describe what you need in fairly
basic terms, and come back an hour later to get your robotic
helper," Wood said.
They could also be used in space.
"Imagine a ream of dozens of robotic satellites sandwiched together
so that they could be sent up to space and then assemble themselves
remotely once they get there," said Sam Felton, a Harvard Ph. D
student who co-authored the research. "They could take images,
collect data, and more."
Felton said the prototype robots still have some problems, though,
including a propensity to burn up before they have folded into
shape. "There is a great deal that we can improve based on this
foundational step," said Felton.