Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a miniature, self-folding robot that could one day operate inside the body.
The tiny robot, which was unveiled at the ICRA robotics conference in Seattle last week, weighs less than a third of a gram and starts its lifecycle as a magnet on a thin wafer of plastic, which folds into shape when exposed to heat.
Once folded, the robot can move over land and water, and conduct tasks such as digging, climbing slopes and carrying objects twice its weight. It then dissolves itself in a solvent.
Current prototypes leave the magnet behind, but the researchers are confident that the entire robot will be dissolvable in the near future, making it suitable for medical use in the body. Multiple designs could be used, optimised for the robot's intended task. The next step is to integrate self-folding sensors into the robot, allowing it to operate autonomously.
Interest is growing in transient electronics that expire or degrade after a certain time. Beyond medical applications, they might be used in low-impact environmental sensors or in wearables. For more on innovative health technologies, see Wired Health 2015.