New Materials Let You Bake Your Own Robot

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MIT researcher Daniela Rus wants to help you bake a robot. Not out of cake batter, silly (although that would be delicious.) Instead, Rus’ project involves cutting out and “printing” plastic materials that change shape when baked, essentially allowing for self-forming objects that build themselves.

The system takes a 3D CAD file and flattens it, adding creases that react to the heat. When heat is applied, the creases force the various surfaces to fold over on themselves. For example, you could create a powerful spring that can pull on objects when heated or cut out a flat robot that then turns three-dimensional in your high-tech oven.

By cutting slits into a substrate of the material, you create a sort of “origami crease pattern” that heat can then activate.

“You’re doing this really complicated global control that moves every edge in the system at the same time,” said Rus in a release. “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.”

This project could also produce a variable resistor by opening or closing an electric component and even create metallic muscles that contract when heated or current is applied. It’s obviously still in very early stages right now but Rus and her team will exhibit the technology at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation this year and maybe, one day, our cake-like robotic servants will rise up and bake us.