That remains a distant fantasy, but researchers at MIT say a new model for adaptive machines is beginning to emerge, one founded upon transforming from the outside (instead of the inside) using different exoskeletons.
In the future, researchers say, similar models may make it possible for microrobots to perform surgeries from inside the human body or make space exploration more feasible.
Made of foldable plastic, the exoskeletons can be manipulated using a heat pad and then dissolved once the robot is immersed in water, researchers said.
Daniela Rus, CSAIL director and principal investigator of the project, calls the transformation — which has been documented on film (below) — a “costume change” and says Primer was inspired by one of nature’s most iconic reconfigurations: butterfly metamorphosis.
Eric Diller, a microrobotics expert and assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto, said that form-changing robots have been created at larger sizes, but they’ve been limited to two shapes — “open” and “closed.” Because Primer’s exoskeleton can be folded into new shapes in a few seconds, Diller said he envisions a scenario involving rapid fabrication of robots.