MIT's reconfigurable robot can transform to become almost anything
dec 05, 2012
MIT's reconfigurable robot can transform to become almost anything


MIT’s reconfigurable robot can transform to become almost anything

 

 

resembling a caterpillar-sized assembly of metal rings and strips, the robot doesn’t look like much. however, the technology involved in the
‘milli-motein’ is influenced by proteins, which naturally fold themselves into incredibly complex forms. it’s seen as a potential application for future
devices that can fold themselves up into almost any shape imaginable. conceived by head of MIT’s center for bits and atoms, neil gershenfeld,
ara knaian and kenneth cheung, the one-dimensional robot can essentially be made in a continuous strip, without conventionally moving parts,
and then folded into arbitrary shapes. in order to achieve this, the team had to invent an entirely new kind of motor: not only small and strong,
but also able to hold its position firmly even with power switched off. the researchers met these needs with a new system called an
electropermanent motor, dubbed as the world’s smallest chain robot.

 

‘the motor is similar in principle to the giant electromagnets used in scrapyards to lift cars, in which a powerful permanent magnet (one that,
like an ordinary bar magnet, requires no power) is paired with a weaker magnet (one whose magnetic field direction can
be flipped by an electric
current in a coil). The two magnets are designed so that their fields either add or cancel, depending on which
way the switchable field points.
thus, the force of the powerful magnet can be turned off at will — such as to release a suspended
car — without having to power an enormous
electromagnet the whole time. in this new miniature version, a series of permanent
magnets paired with electromagnets are arranged in a circle;
they drive a steel ring that’s situated around them.’ knaian explains,  
the key innovation is that “they do not take power in either the on or the
off state, but only use power in the changing state,
using minimal energy overall.’

 

 

(tiny) reconfigurable robots at MIT
video courtesy of MIT news office

 

 

detail of the ‘milli-motein’ robot

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