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The Robotic Equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife

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Milli-Motein robot

This Milli-Motein robot can bend, twist, elongate, and combine with any number of other robot pieces to turn into nearly any shape.

Credit: YouTube

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed milli-motein, a tiny robot that could lead to future devices that can fold themselves into almost any shape. "It's effectively a one-dimensional robot that can be made in a continuous strip, without conventionally moving parts, and then folded into arbitrary shapes," says MIT's Neil Gershenfeld.

The researchers developed an electropermanent motor, which is able to hold its position even with the power switched off. To create the robot, a series of permanent magnets paired with electromagnets are arranged in a circle. The key innovation is that they do not take power in either the on or the off state, but only use power in the changing state, using minimal energy overall, says MIT's Ara Knaian.

The researchers found that a string of subunits capable of folding itself into any shape could be simpler in terms of control, power, and communications than using separate pieces that must find each other and assemble in the right order.

"This result brings us closer to the idea of programmable matter — where computer programs and materials merge to form a new kind of matter whose shape and function can be programmed — not unlike biology," says Cornell University professor Hod Lipson.

From MIT News
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