Robots are supposed to be huge and hulking like Big Dog, but what happens when they are as light as a feather? MIT researchers recently demonstrated a tiny robot that can fold itself from a sheet of thin material, walk around and carry loads, and then dunk itself in acetone to completely dissolve.
The robot, which is controlled by electromagnets, can build itself in a few seconds and then follow signals on a surface or inside another object. It can carry small loads and even move small objects around like a sheepdog. While it’s not fast and it requires a lot of outside gear to move untethered, it’s a unique system and could clearly be used inside a complex object like an engine or a human body.
Interestingly, the magnets don’t actually move the robot. Instead, they vibrate it slightly in different directions and a built-in magnet keeps it moving steadily in one direction. This means it can move on a flat plane and swim in water. It’s made of plastic, but it could be made of other biodegradable materials.
Shuhei Miyashita, Steven Guitron, Marvin Ludersdorfer, Cynthia R. Sung, and Daniela Rus from MIT and TU Munich introduced the robot at ICRA 2015, a robotics conference. Their robot is obviously still just a prototype – it can’t do much more than scoot around a plane – but it looks like it could be an amazing little tool once it’s small and smart enough.