Aviva Rutkin takes up the story:
Tray bakes will never be the same again. A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created flat cut-outs that fold themselves into robot-like shapes when heated up. With this new method they have produced high-tech origami structures including a bunny, an egg, a house and a human figure. The unusual method could one day be part of a bigger system that cooks up robots made to order.
"What we would like is to provide design tools that allow people who are not experts to create their own machines," says lead researcher Daniela Rus. "My own dream is to make it easy and inexpensive to create robots."
Each starts out as a flat sheet of plastic sandwiched between layers of either paper or Mylar, a type of plastic film. Creases are either printed or laser-cut into the sheet, based on calculations made by a computer program based on the shape the researchers want to produce.
Then it goes into an oven preheated anywhere from 55 to 120 ºC. The heat causes the middle layer of plastic to contract, forcing the sheet to bend at different angles depending upon the width of the crease. Though producing the sheets takes time, the folding itself is pretty quick. For all four shapes, the final product was ready in a matter of minutes.
The work and its robot-like products will be presented this week at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Hong Kong. The team will also share ways to create self-folding electrical components such as sensors, actuators, and resistors to help bring such machines to life.
Their next step is to figure out how to get these tools inside the robots, says Rus, "to add the brains to the body".