An intricately cut sheet lies flat and motionless on a table. Then Samuel Felton, a graduate student at Harvard, connects the batteries, sending electricity coursing through, heating it. The sheet lurches to life, the pieces bending and folding into place. The transformation completes in four minutes, and the sheet, now a four-limbed robot, scurries away at more than two inches a second.The creation, reported Thursday in the journal Science, is the first robot that can fold itself and start working without any intervention from the operator.“We’re trying to make robots as quickly and cheaply as possible,” Mr. Felton said.Inspired by origami, the Japanese paper-folding art, such robots could be deployed, for example, on future space missions, Mr. Felton said. Or perhaps the technology could one day be applied to Ikea-like furniture, folding from a flat-packed board to, say, a table without anyone fumbling with Allen wrenches or deciphering instructions seemingly rendered in hieroglyphics.
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