MIT Creates Transformers Robots Using Flexible Exoskeletons

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A team of researchers is developing a transforming robot, which is exactly as cool as it sounds. Will this be revolutionary tech of the future, or just a novel drone?

With the advent of Industry 4.0, it’s easy for our old friend, the robot, to get lost behind all the newer technologies being leveraged to connect all of our industries, devices, and communities.

After all, we have talking houses, AI assistants, and clean energy for years to come.

Everyone's inner child needs transforming robots! #robotsindisguise #PrimerClick To Tweet

But before we get into the robot itself, let’s take a moment to remember why the field of robotics is so terribly important these days. If I had to put it into one word, it would be ‘capability’.

Between the newest drones and the vast improvements in AI tech that we’ve seen in recent years, robots are more capable than ever.

In fact, they are more capable than humans in some ways, considering that robots don’t have to eat, breathe, or sleep.

transformers gif
Transformers | PopKey.com

And now, they might be able to transform. It’s not quite ready to star alongside Shia Lebouf, but it’s still pretty dang impressive.

Transformers Robots: The Wonders of the Origami Exoskeleton

To no one’s surprise, this newest robot was imagined by MIT. The robot is called ‘Primer‘, and it is currently under development at MIT‘s CSAIL.

MIT CSAIL

Initially, the bot is just a small cube, but it uses different exoskeletons in order to transform.

The exoskeletons begin as flat sheets, but when you apply heat they fold into very specific shapes. So far, it’s a snap to change Primer from a cube to a boat, glider, or a wheel.

When it’s not flying in its glider form, Primer can move itself using magnets, making it mobile on land, sea, and air. It can also dive underwater, shedding its exoskeleton so that researchers can apply a new one.

According to Shuguang Li, one of the researchers, the team’s goal is to create a singular, versatile machine that can fulfill many roles. Through the use of various exoskeletons, the robot could perform different tasks, especially in space travel–where human lives could be on the line.

But there’s more than meets the eye with this robot.

If it can change its form it can also change its function, which means that it will need a special kind of AI in order to function.

Bring on the Creative AI

Luckily for Primer, special kinds of AI are now in abundance.

The potential is there to program an AI that can use Primer to mimic any shape that one can imagine, and that could open the world of robotics up to a virtually infinite number of possibilities.

As I mentioned earlier, the research team that is developing Primer has space exploration on the brain, but why stop there?

The potential for search and rescue is immense with Primer. A robot that can change shape based on the task at hand could easily manipulate itself within cramped spaces that are impossible or unsafe for humans to enter.

transformers robots
MIT CSAIL

Alternatively, it could work in those spaces to create a temporary structure to aid rescue crews.

And who wouldn’t jump at the chance for a self-driving car that can turn into a self-driving boat with the flick of a switch?

At the end of the day, I think we’re all a little bit interested in how Primer’s software works, which is something that I’m sure we’ll hear more about as the research develops.

While we wait, here’s something to ponder: What would you do with a transforming robot, and what shapes would you want it to take? Let us know in the comments below!

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