OK, this one will give the science fiction writers a few things to think about. A real transformer robot has been developed by MIT and friends, and it’s far more flexible than even the cartoon Transformers.
Being touted as the robot equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, this thing is really a ground breaker for a whole range of designs, and not just robots. These materials are something else.
Science Daily explains:
The little device is called a milli-motein — a name melding its millimeter-sized components and a motorized design inspired by proteins, which naturally fold themselves into incredibly complex shapes. This minuscule robot may be a harbinger of future devices that could fold themselves up into almost any shape imaginable.
And a power source a lot of people will appreciate:
To build the world’s smallest chain robot, the team had to invent an entirely new kind of motor: not only small and strong, but also able to hold its position firmly even with power switched off. The researchers met these needs with a new system called an electropermanent motor.
(Meaning like, but not quite the same, as a permanent magnet, using electro power)
“they do not take power in either the on or the off state, but only use power in the changing state,” using minimal energy overall.
There are other features in the Science Daily story, but I want to focus on those quotes. There’s a lot going on here that’s not obvious. This is one of the holy grails of design- Space management, multiple operational values and an efficient power source that can look after itself.
Milli here could be very autonomous in a fantastic range of roles. The Swiss Army knife analogy is just barely adequate. Power and function are after all the defining values of any design using a motor. The economics here are excellent, and could be used in a range of expensive, not to say maddeningly complex, roles where multiple operations could in theory be performed by a single Milli able to simply transform into the required machinery.
Add to this a power source that can manage itself, and you have one hell of a little package.
For designers of machinery, this is a Get Out of Jail card for managing space and weight. Big, heavy, clunky machines are definitely not the ideal for a huge range of operations. They’re cumbersome, incur power and weight penalties, and they often need a lot of expensive redesign for some work. (In some cases the power source also adds weight, not very handy for weight based design configurations like planes, cars, heavy machinery, etc. It’s a whole range of basic problems.)
This is a license to let engineers go on the rampage solving a lot of space and power issues. Milli is very likely the forerunner of bigger, even more effective ranges of functions and designs. A bigger Milli, or one with more surfaces, could do more. For the first time in history, the size of a machine adds values instead of restricting them.
This is a lot of future history being made in one little machine. Keep an eye on “transformer technology”, because it will be huge.
Source: Digital Journal