There have been major advances in robotics in the past couple years as far as personification and an expansion of applications. Some robots are even being designed to carry gear in active warzones (and look creepy as hell doing it.) This tiny robot from Harvard microrobotics engineers Sam Felton and Robert Wood brings something else entirely to the table. It’s a self-assembling plastic robot that is capable of walking—it’s really more of a scooting motion—away in four minutes.
The robot starts as a completely flat, vaguely crab-shaped (technically butterfly-shaped) piece of shape memory plastic. This type of plastic—this is key—changes shape when it’s heated. Copper tracks were placed along the lines in the plastic that need to fold in order to create four rough legs. On either side of the body is a microcircuit, complete with battery and motor.
The microcontrollers are used to heat the copper tracks, which causes the plastic to fold along the embedded hinges, allowing the robot to move into a standing position. Once it’s all set, the motors allow it to “walk” (scuttle?) on its own.
If you’re wondering why this would ever be useful, the researchers are focusing on search and rescue applications. Because the robots are very small, they could be useful for accessing places that humans are too big for in earthquake or situations where someone might be buried. Plus, obviously this will be useful in the inevitable robot takeover.