In a nod to the Ancient with a touch of Transformers thrown in for good measure, engineers are looking at a whole different “breed” of robots to steal our jobs, enslave us, then keep us as pets.

Origami Robots

Cartoons that cause seizures, anime and manga that prompts masturbation, and sex dolls that double as pillows are certainly in the realm of Japanese ingenuity. But all of these are rooted in tradition turned technological advancement of humankind. The samurai sword that became by favorite sushi knife, the solitary bonzai cultivator that became a great walk through full-sized gardens where you can spend the afternoon in admiration with the family are also in the Japanese portfolio. What’s next? I’ll tell you, it’s origami robots.

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Origami Robots: 17th century Shrinky Dinks

The ancient art of paper folding from the 17th century may just usher in the robots of the future. That is when you throw that 70s mainstay, the Shrinky Dink, into the mix.

In a paper summarized in Science today, researchers showed us the future of self-assembling bots that can be built and transported at lower costs than traditional robots. Never mind that you could potentially throw them through a small hole in the wall that acts as a much larger house for house mice, order them to “assemble” themselves into something much larger and murder mice until they run of battery power. Ok, that’s still a ways off but this is really cool.

Essentially, from the Science article published today, these new robots are made of paper layered with Shrinky Dinks, a child’s (pastime) toy, that shrinks when heated. The engineers and researchers ran circuits through the material where they wanted it to fold. The circuits then heat as a fold is needed and pull the robot into its final shape. Add a battery and a motor and that piece of paper then walks away as a much larger robot crane, dog, or well, you get the picture.

“When it tries to shrink, it pulls on the paper and causes it to fold over,” said robotics engineer Sam Felton at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering in Cambridge, Mass., who led the project.

“People are already 3D printing batteries that are very flat,” he said. “We’ll eventually have options for creating 2D versions of all the components we need.” And while this robot can only fold itself into a single shape, different materials could hypothetically produce a more versatile model.”

Origami Robots: “Soft” robotics

The field is soft robotics and it’s as exciting as it frightening and almost unfathomable.

Lead author of a separate origami robotics paper from the same issue of Science published today, Jesse L. Silverberg, a graduate student in physics at Cornell, explains the potential.

“Imagine this: a building collapses, and you have a snake-like robot that can go into debris. And as it unfolds, it goes from a soft robot to a rigid barrier that could protect people,” Silverberg said. “It folds one way to crawl into tight spaces, and another way to become a protective barrier. It can transform its function on the fly.”

“A single sheet of paper has certain properties, but when you fold it into a particular pattern, it suddenly has new properties,” co-author and University of Massachusetts Amherst physicist Christian Santangelo said. “So the idea is that you could use paper folding to make new materials, and ones with the properties you want – even if they aren’t found in nature.”

As the Japanese originated the art of origami, they most surely deserve the right to make the self assembling sex doll for the traveling businessman of the 22nd century. Don’t think it’s possible, mark my words and tell me I’m wrong in about a hundred years.