Even for the Pentagon’s science-fiction division, it seemed like a stretch. But in 2007, Darpa really did launch an effort to build programmable matter that could reconfigure itself on command. Then, two years later, Harvard and MIT researchers really did make progress building “self-folding origami” that just might be able to twist themselves into different shapes. Yesterday, Darpa-backed electrical engineers at the two schools released the stunning results: a shape-shifting sheet of rigid tiles and elastomer joints that can fold itself into a little plane or a boat on demand.
It’s “a first step towards making everyday objects whose mechanical properties can be programmed,” Harvard’s Robert Wood says in a statement.
The sheet, less than a half-millimeter thick, “is studded with thin foil actuators and flexible electronics. The demonstration material contains 25 total actuators, divided into five groupings. A shape is produced by triggering the proper actuator groups in sequence,” the statement explains.
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