What do you see when you close your eyes and imagine robots? Probably tough, metallic machines that can withstand all sorts of extreme conditions. While that's usually the case with most DARPA-funded creations, the government agency believes there's a future for robots much, much softer than the usual. Enter one of DARPA's most curious projects — the origami-like paper bot that runs on nothing but air.
Some of the more conventional robots can't get into tight places, and in some instances like search and rescue operations, flexibility may be crucial. The paper bots are highly-flexible, and can slither, twist, and undulate like snakes. Aside from paper, the robots are made of fabric and wire mesh, while silicone is used to mold their shapes.
The robots are connected to a hose that pumps compressed air around twice as strong as human exhalation. Because they don't have internal mechanisms, their movements are mostly determined by the way they're folded. A tube of paper crumpled the right way, for example, can lift roughly 2 lb. of weight when air is pumped.
Some of the more immediate uses for paper bots are surveillance and rescue missions. But in the future, the researchers hope to shrink them down until they're microscopic in size, possibly for medical applications.
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