Researchers have developed robots that self-assemble when heated
Image: MIT

A team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found an ingenious way to manufacture robots by 3D printing the components, and then heating them so they can automatically fold into three-dimensional configurations. 

It all begins with a flat sheet of plastic sandwiched between layers of either paper or a plastic film called Mylar. Creases are then printed into the sheet based on the 3D shape the researchers want to create. 

The sheet is then placed in a preheated oven, causing the middle layer of plastic to contract and assemble the robot.  

The team’s leader, Daniela Rus, explains in a press release: “We have this big dream of the hardware compiler, where you can specify, ‘I want a robot that will play with my cat,’ or ‘I want a robot that will clean the floor,’ and from this high-level specification, you actually generate a working device”.    

The real challenge is generating precise angles that will fold as expected. Rus explains: “You want to design those edges in such a way that the result of composing all these motions, which actually interfere with each other, leads to the correct geometric structure.”

Over at New Scientist, Rus tells Aviva Rutkin: “What we would like is to provide design tools that allow people who are not experts to create their own machines. My own dream is to make it easy and inexpensive to create robots."

Which type of robot would you print at home?

Source: New Scientist and MIT