PROVIDENCE, R.I., June 2 (UPI) -- Building a robot from scratch is challenging, but people do it -- young people, even. None of them, however, bake their robot in the oven.
That's the latest technique from engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose newest robotic creation is first delivered from a 3D printer and then heated to trigger its self-assembly.
When it comes out of the 3D printer, the robot is just a sheet made of a polymer called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. The sheet is sandwiched between two rigid polyester films. Slits cut into the films affect how the PVC sheet will fold when it is heated.
"You're doing this really complicated global control that moves every edge in the system at the same time," explained lead researcher Daniela Rus, an engineering and computer science professor at MIT. "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."
The new easy-bake robot will be presented by Rus and his research colleagues next week at the 2014 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Hong Kong.
Similar print-then-fold techniques -- using a polyester coated with aluminum -- were employed by the MIT engineers to build the electronic components to power the robot.
"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," Rus explained.
But the research could generate more than just robots aimed at amusing cats; the same folding technology could be used to help laypersons assemble and install advanced electronics.