The device doesn’t look like much: a caterpillar-sized assembly of metal rings and strips resembling something you might find buried in a home-workshop drawer. But the technology behind it, and the long-range possibilities it represents, are quite remarkable.
The little device is called a milli-motein — a name melding its millimeter-sized components and a motorized design inspired by proteins, which naturally fold themselves into incredibly complex shapes. This minuscule robot may be a harbinger of future devices that could fold themselves up into almost any shape imaginable.
The device was conceived by Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, visiting scientist Ara Knaian and graduate student Kenneth Cheung, and is described in a paper presented recently at the 2012 Intelligent Robots and Systems conference. Its key feature, Gershenfeld says: “It’s effectively a one-dimensional robot that can be made in a continuous strip, without conventionally moving parts, and then folded into arbitrary shapes.”