A team of researchers at Harvard University, a New England Council member, has announced a major advance in robotic technology. By using Shrinky Dinks, a classic children’s activity consisting of composite paper that shrinks and hardens when it is heated, the team built a self-assembling robot. It is the first of its kind that has the ability to build itself and crawl without any human intervention. The method used to create it draws inspiration from self-assembly in nature, according to Harvard.
The team consists of engineers and computer scientists from Harvard’s Wyss Institute, Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The research team received funding from the National Science Foundation, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Research at Harvard, and the Department of Defense, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.
“Getting a robot to assemble itself autonomously and actually perform a function has been a milestone we’ve been chasing for many years,” said senior author Rob Wood, Ph.D., a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard and the Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard’s SEAS. Those who worked on the project and other professionals in the field are not only excited about the current breakthrough, but are enthusiastic about what it means for the future.
As described in the journal Science, the breakthrough “demonstrates the potential to quickly and cheaply build sophisticated machines that interact with the environment, and to automate much of the design and assembly process.” Leaders in the group are already imagining sending such technology to space, where robots would assemble themselves upon arrival and go on to take images and collect data.
The New England Council commends Harvard and its partners for the groundbreaking product they have created, and looks forward to seeing what the future of this technology will bring.