This small cube can transform into a walking, wheeling, boating, or gliding bot with the help of origami exoskeletons that fold around it to create a new form and function. These are tiny shape-shifting robots from researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). The core cube is controlled by magnetic fields and its origami exoskeletons have seams that help the pieces fold into the correct positions when heat activates them.

“If we want robots to help us do things, it’s not very efficient to have a different one for each task,” says Daniela Rus, CSAIL director and principal investigator on the project. “With this metamorphosis-inspired approach, we can extend the capabilities of a single robot by giving it different ‘accessories’ to use in different situations…”

“Imagine future applications for space exploration, where you could send a single robot with a stack of exoskeletons to Mars,” says postdoc Shuguang Li, one of the co-authors of the study. “The robot could then perform different tasks by wearing different ‘outfits.’”

Next, watch this larger Self-Folding Crawler: A Transformer-style Origami Robot collaboration out of MIT and Harvard, and MIT CSAIL’s robotic fish that can independently swim with real fish.

Plus: Origami Changes Everything.

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