There are several benefits to flat-pack robots: they're fast and cheap to mass manufacture, which means they can be used for applications where their loss won't be a big deal; and they're easy to store and ship. The problems have been organising the components in such a way that means they can fit onto the flat sheet, and designing the robot so that it can actually move.
A new breakthrough by researchers at MIT and both Harvard's Wyss Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science sees a robot made of little more than paper and Shrinky Dinks that can fold itself into a complex form and walk away without any human aid in as little as four minutes.
Inspired by self-assembly in nature -- such as the way sequences of amino acids fold into complex proteins -- the robot is the latest in a series of origami robots created over the last few years, including a printed, self-folding robotic inchworm, a self-assembling lamp and pop-up robotic bees. This, however, is the first that can build itself and perform a function without human intervention.