Self-Assembling Printed Robots with Heat
It would be really cool if one day you could use a 3D printer to build a robot in your house, to complete whatever task you have for it. To help reach that goal, researchers have been working out how to actually construct a robot that way, as some robots may not be something you can just print directly. Researchers at MIT though have recently written two papers that could help bring that future to the present with self-assembling components.
One of the papers describes a system capable of analyzing a 3D shape in a CAD file and creating the 2D patterns that, if made into plastic, could recreate the 3D shape through self-folding when heated. Having an automated approach for creating these 2D patterns is amazing, as it would greatly simplify the work needed to design self-assembling robots, as only the end-shape would have to be designed, or asked for by a consumer.
Of course the body of a robot is not much more than a toy without the electronic components needed for it to act, which is what the second paper explored. Specifically it describes how components like resistors, inductors, capacitors, sensors, and actuators could be built of self-folding materials that had been laser cut. Instead of using a computer to design the patterns, the researchers did the designing by handing, to ensure the necessary shape and electrical properties were achieved.