[Watch] Miniature Origami Swimming Robot

Published Jun 5, 2015 12:17 AM by Wendy Laursen

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have demonstrated an untethered miniature origami robot that self-folds, walks, swims and dissolves. From a flat 2D sheet with a magnet on it, the robot folds itself up in a matter of seconds, zips around via magnets on land or water and then gets dunked into a tank of acetone to dissolve completely.

The robot consists of a magnet and PVC sandwiched between laser-cut structural layers (polystyrene or paper). It weighs 0.31g, is 1.7cm long and can travel at speeds of up to four centimeters a second. 

In forming itself, heat is applied which causes the PVC to contract and fold along pre-cut layers. The robot is powered by a permanent magnet motor. Its interaction with four electromagnetic coils placed under it provide the energy used for movement, although the magnets don’t move the robot directly. Rather they vibrate it slightly in different directions, and the built-in magnet keeps it moving steadily in one direction.

The robot can be steered through water when the external magnetic field is strong enough.

The MIT researchers haven’t yet added sensors or other payloads, but the robot is designed for use in tight, unreachable spaces. Using different construction materials it could be further enhanced to dissolve in water. The attraction for this biodegradable self-destruction is potential medical applications inside the body. 

MIT has already demonstrated a robot cheetah that can run and jump without the need for cables. MIT researchers have also developed a robotic fish that can move and change direction as quickly as a real fish, a soft arm that can grasp objects and slither like a snake, robotic sheep, origami flowers that can open and change colors and robotic ducks that fold into shape by being heated in an oven.