A self-assembling robot from researchers at Harvard and MIT.

Photo: Harvard’s Wyss Institute

I have a thing for low-tech robots, especially when they’re made from everyday stuff. The body of this new little robot bug from MIT and Harvard, described last week in the latest issue of Science, is made from a five-layer sandwich of copper traces, paper, and shape-memory polymer — the stuff you know as Shrinky Dinks. With batteries, motors, and microprocessor, it uses about $100 worth of materials. And when you plug in the battery, it folds itself into shape and scurries away.

The origami robot is a conglomeration of earlier work at MIT, Harvard, and elsewhere. Its laser-cut composite body is reminiscent of Dash, the robot bug from Berkeley. The heat-activated self-folding polymer sheets have been studied at North Carolina State University. The origami structure — which opens up the possibility of multiple configurations, customized for on-the-go robotic needs — is based on research by MIT’s Erik Demaine and Daniela Rus, part of the team that wrote about the current robobug in this month’s Science.

But what’s particularly exciting is the fact that the building techniques and materials to make a self-folding robot are probably within reach of the average DIY fan, with or without access to a laser cutter. Watch Harvard’s Rob Wood talk about the genesis of the self-folding origami robot, and check out more videos at The Creator’s Project.

Kathy Ceceri

Kathy Ceceri

Kathy is the author of low tech/no tech books full of easy STEAM projects, including Paper Inventions and Making Simple Robots published by Maker Media. When she’s not writing, she presents workshops for students and educators at schools, museums, libraries, and makerspaces throughout the Northeast. Kathy was a top contributor to Wired.com’s GeekDad blog, helped create the GeekMom blog and book, and served as About.com’s Homeschooling Expert. Her website is Crafts for Learning.