By Amina Khan
BOSTON (Los Angles Times) — It’s the ultimate DIY robot, a machine that assembles itself out of a single sheet and then rolls away — all without need for an onboard motor or even wheels.
The so-called rollbot, described this week in the journal Science Robotics, demonstrates the power of origami-inspired automatons. One day, these robots could serve as environmental sensors, interplanetary explorers or as medical devices in the body.
As robots have become increasingly ubiquitous, scientists and engineers have been developing ways to make them softer — allowing them to interface with squishy humans without hurting them, or to react to unpredictable environments without breaking. But strength and durability have traditionally come from metal limbs and mechanical gears, and it’s hard to get the same performance with squishy parts.
Soft and functional robots certainly exist, but many of them come with a few drawbacks. For one thing, they usually have to carry their power source, which means having more hard parts on board.
“You’ll see highly functional soft robots that for example can crawl, can jump, but normally they’re not fully soft,” said study co-leader Arda Kotikian, a materials science graduate student at Harvard University. “And if they are, they’re usually tethered to their power source. You can think of this tether essentially like a leash — so you need your very bulky power supply to be following your robot at all times.”