MIT Robot Transforms Into Boats, Wheels And Other Shapes

Posted: Sep 30 2017, 9:07am CDT | by , Updated: Sep 30 2017, 9:16am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
MIT Robot Transforms into Boats, Wheels and Other Shapes
Credit: MIT

Origami style "superhero" robot can walk, roll, sail, and glide using different exoskeletons

For years, MIT researchers have been working on origami-style robots – soft structures that can bend or fold themselves.

Their latest milestone is a “superhero” robot that can fold itself into many shapes like boats and wheels and can walk, roll, sail and glide using its exoskeletons. Unlike other robots with fixed structures and a single defined purpose, these real-life transformers are highly adaptive and are capable of performing a wide variety of tasks.

“If we want robots to help us do things, it’s not very efficient to have a different one for each task,” said Daniela Rus, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) director and principal investigator on the project. “With this metamorphosis-inspired approach, we can extend the capabilities of a single robot by giving it different ‘accessories’ to use in different situations.”

The robot, named Primer, is only a couple of centimeters in size and is controlled by an external magnetic field. It begins as a flat sheet and folds into desired shape when heated. It can carry things and can also work in water. The robot can even wear multiple outfits at once. For instance, it can become a “Walk-bot” and then puts on a larger exoskeleton that gives it different abilities. These shape-shifting robots can save both time and cost and can offer unique opportunities for applications such as missions to deep space.

“Imagine future applications for space exploration, where you could send a single robot with a stack of exoskeletons to Mars,” said Shuguang Li, one of the co-authors of the study. “The robot could then perform different tasks by wearing different ‘outfits.’”

Robots that can change their shape and function have been developed in larger sizes before, but it is remarkable to replicate this feature into structures at much smaller scales.

“This work represents an advance over the authors' previous work in that they have now demonstrated a scheme that allows for the creation of five different functionalities,” said Eric Diller, a microrobotics expert from University of Toronto, who was not involved in the study. “Previous work at most shifted between only two functionalities, such as ‘open’ or ‘closed’ shapes.”

As a next step, researchers are planning to add even wider range of capabilities into the robot, from driving through water and burrowing in sand to camouflaging their color.

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