It's 2050, and you're prepping the oven to bake your next robotic minion while a 3D printer spews out its components. Wait a sec... bake a robot? As strange as that sounds, there's already a group of MIT researchers developing the technology and the printable materials that can self-assemble into a robot when heated. Since we usually bake food and not robots (and this is all very new), the researchers are experimenting with different materials to find the best option. One is aluminum-coated polyster that folds or twirls itself to form the proper components inside an oven. The other is PVC plastic sandwiched between rigid polyester sheets full of cuts and slits -- upon heating, the PVC becomes deformed and the slits close, forcing the whole thing to bend and fold into place.
Also, the scientists are looking into developing a system that uses CAD files to create 2D patterns, as described in one of the two papers they published about the research. Obviously, the team's not going to develop the perfect material and method overnight, but MIT professor Daniela Rus says they ultimately hope to make it possible to create useful robots anytime.
We have this big dream of the hardware compiler, where you can specify, 'I want a robot that will play with my cat,' or 'I want a robot that will clean the floor,' and from this high-level specification, you actually generate a working device
The team is slated to present their findings at the ongoing IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Hong Kong. But if you can't go, and you just can't wrap your head around the idea of bakeable robots, watch the actual process go down in the video below.