Bake your own robot: MIT demonstrates printable robots that self-assemble when heated

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has unveiled its latest wave of robot innovation – a new set of algorithms and electronic components that could enable printable robots that respond and move to heat.

The concept of printable robots that can be assembled from parts produced by 3D printers has been a subject of deep interest at MIT for some time, and has recently seen the introduction of ‘bakable robots’ earlier this year.

Now professors there have unveiled their next stage of creative design in two papers, in which they seek to demonstrate the promise of printable robotic components that, when heated, automatically fold into prescribed 3D configurations.

One of the papers explains how to build electrical components from self-folding laser-cut materials, with the researchers also presenting designs for resistors, inductors, and capacitors, as well as sensors and actuators — the electromechanical “muscles” that enable robots’ movements.

Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, who has spearheaded the project, said:

“We have this big dream of the hardware compiler, where you can specify, ‘I want a robot that will play with my cat,’ or ‘I want a robot that will clean the floor,’ and from this high-level specification, you actually generate a working device.

“So far, we have tackled some subproblems in the space, and one of the subproblems is this end-to-end system where you have a picture, and at the other end, you have an object that realizes that picture. And the same mathematical models and principles that we use in this pipeline we also use to create these folded electronics.”

Watch the above video for a demonstration.

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