What you're looking at here is the first ever machine to be able to "self-assemble". In other words, go from one state to another that can be used for...something. Without a human having to ever touch a button or issue a direct command.
The result of a joint project between MIT and Harvard, the "origami robot" may look humble, almost toy-like, but is actually built from some pretty sci-fi tech.
The robot starts as a flat sheet with embedded electronics, and transforms autonomously into a functional machine. To accomplish this, we developed shape-memory composites that fold themselves along embedded hinges. We used these composites to recreate fundamental folded patterns, derived from computational origami, that can be extrapolated to a wide range of geometries and mechanisms. This origami-inspired robot can fold itself in 4 minutes and walk away without human intervention, demonstrating the potential both for complex self-folding machines and autonomous, self-controlled assembly.
"The exciting thing here is that you create this device that has computation embedded in the flat, printed version," says MIT researcher Daniela Rus. "When these devices lift up from the ground into the third dimension, they do it in a thoughtful way."
While this little guy looks depressingly primitive, not to mention largely useless, the bigger picture for this kind of technology is everything from self-assembling furniture (fuck you, Ikea instructions) to emergency work (slip the "flat" robot through rubble and have it "transform" on the other side).