back to article MIT boffins exhibit self-forming 'programmable matter'

Almost unbelievably lazy boffins at Harvard and MIT, fatigued no doubt by the onerous task of fashioning paper planes for use during academic debates, have developed electrically powered self-folding paper able to do this without human input. Here's a vid: "Smart sheets are Origami Robots that will make any shape on …


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  1. nickrw
    Paris Hilton


    They're obviously working closely with the Vulture 1 engineers. If it has to land over water it can just transform into a boat!

    Also, where's the RoTM tag?

  2. anarchic-teapot

    The tags are wrong

    There should be a RoTM in there. Just saying.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    I for one...

    welcome our new papercut ruling overlords

  4. Anonymous Coward


    no rotm tag?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Couldn't afford a color camera?

    Was it me or did this look like a "science" film from the '50s with that black and white video?

  6. ravenviz


    It would only seem sensible that all robots are made of paper so we can at least set fire to them if they get any funny ideas about taking over the world or anything!

  7. Adrian Challinor
    Paris Hilton


    Yes, I want to see a piece of paper released in to space and make it self in to a paper aircraft.

    It needs an RoTM tag.

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Primitive but full of promise.

    Creating a sheet of triangles to map solid objects is quite neat, the reverse of the process in CAD 3d modeling.

    Actuators that can achieve gross physical changes in a reasonable time

    Presumably the next stage would be to implement some kind of controller per triangle

    BTW Doing it in color to minimise bandwidth. Used so rarely these days. Nice.

  9. Stef 4

    RUBIK would be proud.

    A RUBIK Magic wired up to a PC.

    Now, if they can just make it wireless so that when the evil Deceptacon plane flies and transforms into a boat before crashing into the salty waves to chase Megan Fox and Optimus Prime, it isn't trailing 16 miles of copper.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Paris because...

    ...PARIS should be using this.

    For something. Not sure what. Hmmm.

  11. adnim Silver badge


    Clever idea, but can it be folded more than eight times?

    If composed of thinner material with control structures that are invisible to the naked eye and if it could be written upon, it could be described as paper I suppose. Until then it is PCB.

    Is it a bird, is it a plane? No it's just mimetic paper blowing in the wind.

  12. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    Programmed Folding Is... DNA produces protiens with desired shapes and functions and, indeed, us.

  13. SmallYellowFuzzyDuck, how pweety!

    Title goes here

    Well it's certainly going to revolutionise the greeting card industry a few years from now.

    "Aww, thanks for the birthday card, yeah yeah right now it's folding itself into the shape of a cake. Hey it even has little candles on it that just ignited themselves, oh crap and the curtains..."

    self folding jacket, must avoid hitting the fold button before I remove it.

  14. Brian Miller

    But *how* does it do it?

    Yes, I can see that it does do it, and the paper's abstract mentions something about it, but *how* does the paper bend?? Do the joints flex based on heating a side, and then "adhere" with bitty electromagnets?

  15. Bob H


    It is the first phase of the replicators!!!! They are coming to get us!!!! ARGHH!!!!

    1. Gannon (J.) Dick


      And how TBL the GLB makes his Bag of Chips, Zeke. Now all I have to do is wait for them to read their e-mail - at least they don't have to unfold it.

  16. Robert Hill


    If anyone has followed robotic research, there are a number of actuators built on bi-metallic strips that deform when current is applied. On robots this is used for fine actuators, i.e., moveable parts.

    It would appear (based upon the traces) that this "paper" has been divided up into triangles, with each triangle being joined to the one next to it with a variant of this moveable actuator. By controlling which actuators are fired, and the sequence, you can then bend any triangle to any angle with respect to it's neighbour - thus forming shapes in 3D. The challenge is to know what triangles need to move how to form a given 3D shape - hence having a link to computational origami.

    This is cool by itself - but WAY cooler when they can incorporate changes in COLOUR into those triangles...and then scale the number of triangles up by two orders of magnitudes, and then get more powerful actuators, and then get it wireless, and then...oh HELL, where did I put it - I can't SEE the thing anymore - but there is one too many chairs in this room...wait, one is MOVING towards me...argh!!!!

  17. Graham Marsden

    It's a boat, it's a plane...

    ... but it's got a long way to go before it becomes Optimus Prime....!

  18. Anonymous Coward

    folding at home

    "developed electrically powered self-folding paper able to do this without human input." great, now make it into a commercial product Next ready to actually buy retail down your local ASDA in a month's time.

    lets say a simple wireless router parabolic dish that can transmute into the perfect shape and bend to the strongest signal, or/and even simpler a 10 watt Photo voltaic sheet that can track the sun and curve as required for a given optimal power level.... to power a ARM dual A9/Neon..... this is super low power and low cost folding at home right :)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Wonder if ...

      ... Google did a Street View drive-by of Arecibo. I imagine Alien Life Forms can be very uncivil (and Uncivil Law) when it comes to invasion of privacy. Just sayin'.

  19. David Lester
    Thumb Up

    Very interesting, but ...

    I was impressed enough with Daniela's work when I saw it in Italy last month that I'd intended to tip off El Reg about it.

    One drawback on the practical front is the power consumption. Those smart wires draw five amps. She also has other vids of self-sculpting matter and smart matter. Again the current drawn by the 1624 minimotors she's using would worry me.

    Still I'm no robotocist; instead it's a matter of some pride that she's using our low-power ARMs!

    1. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

      Five amps is not a problem

      As long as the voltage is low enough. If, for example, these actuators run off a potential of a few millivolts, it's not bad. If it's a normal control voltage of 5 V or 12 V, then the power consumption isn't so great. The other question would be whether they need to be powered to hold the shape once it is formed, or only when changing shape. This is the sort of thing that would have a bearing on real-world applications.

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