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Now, a shape-shifting robot that changes to anything

Last Updated: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - 19:09

Washington: This one is straight out of the Transformers franchise!

MIT researchers have developed a new tiny robot that is able to change its shape to almost anything, using magnets to mimic molecules that fold themselves into complex forms.

The research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) could lead to robots that could be reconfigured to perform many different tasks.

However, experts said a lot of work was still needed.

The research was presented at the 2012 Intelligent Robots and Systems Conference.

"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," said researcher, Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT`s Center for Bits and Atoms.

To fold itself into a new shape, the robot uses an "electro-permanent" motor - similar to the electromagnets used in scrapyards to lift cars, MIT said in a statement.

It is composed of pairs of a powerful permanent magnet and a weaker magnet with a magnetic field that changes direction when an electric current is applied.

The magnetic fields of each magnet either add up or cancel each other, making the robot move.

The prototype comes a year after the same team published a theory it was possible to create any 3D shape by folding a sufficiently long string of subunits.

The little device is called a milli-motein, a name melding its millimetre-sized components and a motorised design inspired by proteins, which naturally fold themselves into incredibly complex shapes.

This minuscule robot may be a harbinger of future devices that could fold themselves up into almost any shape imaginable.


First Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - 19:08

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