A real life Transformer? Research done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology led to the creation of a tiny robot that is able to change shape. Using magnets, it is able to mimic molecules that fold themselves into complex shapes. The research could led to advancement such as robots that could be reconfigured to perform many different tasks.
The research, part funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, was presented at the 2012 Intelligent Robots and Systems conference.
“It’s effectively a one-dimensional robot that can be made in a continuous strip, without conventionally moving parts, and then folded into arbitrary shapes,” said by Neil Gershenfield, one of the researchers.
The device uses an “electo-permanent” motor to fold itself into a new shape. This technology is similar to the electromagnets used in scrapyards to lift cars.
The robot is composed of pairs of a powerful permanent and a weaker magnet with a magnetic field that changes direction when an electric current is applied. The magnetic fields than cancel each other out, making the robot move.
The prototype was released only a year after the same team published a theory that it would be possible to create any 3D shape by folding a sufficiently long string of sub-units.
While the machinery may be difficult to use alongside artificial intelligence machines, it has many real world applications.