Self-folding robotic paper: useful or gimmick?

You and I may consider it cheating, but Harvard's Robert Wood and his team have slapped a bunch of tiny actuators onto pieces of origami paper and have taught it to bend itself into different shapes. What could that even be good for, though?

Self-folding robotic paper does just what it sounds like: the actuators along the surface of the page can work together pushing and pulling until you're left with an airplane, a crane, or what have you. Sounds perfect for clowns and magicians.

A paper published by the team (which, unfortunately, you need to be a member of this site if you want to read the whole thing) proposes that the technology could see more practical applications, such as resizing a cup depending on the amount of beverage it's going to hold. Your large coffee, for instance, could transform into a small when you go back for "just a little bit more."

Still, that sounds pretty useless — though maybe it'd cut down on waste in the cup industry. We imagine that if this tech ever does see the light of day in a big way, it's going to be used for more than just coffee cups.

Check out a few examples of the self-folding paper in action in the video below.

PNAS.org, via Boing Boing