Toy robots that can fold into different configurations are fairly common, but these simplistic devices are a far cry from the dream of real-life Transformers. Now a group at MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms has created a robot that could point the way toward the real thing.
Developed by lab director Neil Gershenfeld, visiting scientist Ara Knaian, and graduate student Kenneth Cheung, the Milli-Motein is a reconfigurable robot that can be programmed to fold itself into a number of different shapes. And, after the robot has shifted into a new shape, it can hold that shape even when its power is cut off by using a what is known as an electro-permanent motor. Gershenfeld said, "[The Milli-Motein is] effectively a one-dimensional robot that can be made in a continuous strip, without conventionally moving parts, and then folded into arbitrary shapes."
However, the project's research paper, recently presented at the 2012 Intelligent Robots and Systems conference, warns that real world deployment of such robots will require cheaper, more durable materials, as well as better software and algorithms.
You can see the Milli-Motein in action in the video below.