In a move sure to please sci-fi geeks, scientists have created a new robot that can change shape to become a wheel, a ship, and even a glider, similar to the robots of Transformers and Robotech. What starts as an unassuming metal cube quickly grows into a versatile robot, using origamilike layers of thin mylar plastic that it folds around itself. The bot’s transformation starts when a magnetically controlled cube 3 millimeters square drops onto a thin, 2-centimeter-long mylar sheet with precisely placed folds and slits. Scientists heat the sheet, which folds itself around the block (nicknamed “Primer”) in a pattern that allows it to shuffle quickly across a flat surface. Like a Russian nesting doll, there are four origami exoskeletons that can further surround this “walk-bot” to perform different tasks, including one shaped like a pair of wheels and another shaped like glider wings. There’s even a ship-shaped exoskeleton that allows the bot to float on water. When the walk-bot needs to shed one of these outer layers, it simply submerges itself underwater, and the metallic origami floats away, the researchers report today in Science Robotics. Primer can shed the walk-bot exoskeleton when exposed to another solvent. The researchers say that such “on-site morphing” could allow similar robots to do construction work in difficult environments, such as disaster zones or space, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “transform and roll out!”
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