Robotics has advanced a great deal over the past couple of decades, with the technology increasingly becoming widespread and indeed indispensable. Nearly every field has, in some way, benefitted from this advancing technology and the future will most likely hold greater surprises and as a step toward this, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created the first-ever “Transformers”-like robot, one that is able to change shape.
Developed with funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA, the tiny robot employs the use of magnets to change shape, folding and unfolding to create different shapes. The theory behind the robot is to mimic molecules, which are able to reconfigure into different shapes with a real world application seeing the robot reconfigure, much like the fictitious robots in “Transformers”, to perform different tasks.
The shape-shifting robot was presented at the 2012 Intelligent Robots and Systems Conference held in Portugal in October this year. The robot used a system of “electro-permanent” motors to affect the different shapes it could fold into. The system itself comprises of a number of varyingly powered magnets, which, upon the application of current, move in opposite directions, changing shape.
Speaking about the robot, Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms and researcher on the project, said, “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."
Of course, experts have said that while the technology itself may have potential, it is still far from any actual application and that a great deal of work is still needed to see where this kind of technology can go.
It was the same MIT team that, a year ago, formulated the theory that it was entirely possible to create any 3D shape imaginable using “subunits” that could be strung together in a long enough sequence.
Commenting on the technology, deputy head of the Intelligent Systems and Networks Group at Imperial College London, Jeremy Pitt, said, "It is a fascinating example of what happens when mathematical proof, that an arbitrary 3D shape can be built from a sufficiently long string, meets engineering innovation - the miniaturization of motors and magnets and the minimization of power consumption. There is going to be an interesting research race between groups trying to create reconfigurable structures out of such chains and those trying to build them out of independent self-assembling units."