The process, known as self-folding, allows consumers to essentially "bake" their own personalized robot. It involves cutting out and printing plastic materials that change shape when baked. The process flattens a 3D CAD file and adds creases that react to heat. When heated inside an oven, the creases force the object to fold into itself to form a 3D object.
"You're doing this really complicated global control that moves every edge in the system at the same time," says MIT professor Daniela Rus. "You want to design those edges in such a way that the result of composing all these motions, which actually interfere with each other, leads to the correct geometric structure."
This project is still in the early stages of development, but the team of researchers is slated to present their findings at the ongoing IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Hong Kong
"We have this big dream of the hardware compiler, where you can specify, 'I want a robot that will play with my cat,' or 'I want a robot that will clean the floor,' and from this high-level specification, you actually generate a working device," says Rus. "So far, we have tackled some subproblems in the space, and one of the subproblems is this end-to-end system where you have a picture, and at the other end, you have an object that realizes that picture. And the same mathematical models and principles that we use in this pipeline we also use to create these folded electronics."
Watch the video below to learn more about the "baking" process.