MIT and Harvard make world’s 1st Transformer

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

MIT and Harvard
The self-assembling robot starts off flat, then within four minutes, it can get up and walk away without any human input.

Autobots, roll out! Engineers from the elite universities of Harvard and MIT have created the world’s first Transformer robot, using origami-inspired shape memory materials that react to heat or pressure. The unique bots can be used in hazardous environments on Earth or in space, paving the way for convenient and cost-effective tinkering, data gathering, and exploration.

The self-assembling machines may not be able to turn into jets or semi-trucks like in the Transformers films, but the foldable gizmos can put themselves together, get up, and start walking without assistance from humans! At first glance, these flat-packed gadgets appear like a sheet of paper and plastic with batteries and motors, but within four minutes, they can build themselves and then walk at a speed of about 5 centimeters per second.

Sam Felton, who helped make the robotic invention, says, “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. They could take images, collect data and more.” See, scientists can decide ahead of time which environmental triggers will cue the robot to start constructing itself, making it react to temperature or pressure.

These aren’t multi-million dollar devices, either, since the equipment to make the 13-centimeter-long bots costs about $3,000. Then, each bot only costs about $100 to make! Not only will they cut costs when it comes to exploring dangerous environments, but their self-assembling technique can revolutionize manufacturing processes by having products assemble themselves rather than requiring a factory. Santa Claus and his elves might find themselves out of a job if toys can just put themselves together and jump down your chimney!

Images courtesy of Harvard University.