The strange-looking piece of twisty curly metal below is actually a robot that can shape shift into various shapes. The robot, called milli-motein, is about the size of your oridinary garden catepillar. Says the scientists involved with the project, this robot could be a "harbinger" of the future and the shape shifting robots that are currently science fiction.
The robot gets its name from its size and the fact that it uses a design that was inspired by protein, which can be considered nature's shape shifter. Milli-motein was revealed in a paper at the 2012 Intelligent Robots and Systems event. What makes the small robot most remarkabe is it protein-inspired motor, a necessity due to the robot's small size.
What's so special about the motor? It's an electropermanent motor, which "is similar in principle" to electromagnet motors. It is composed of two magnets, one of which is weaker than the other. When operated, the magnetic fields can increase or cancel each other. Essentially, this allows them to be utilized as an electromagent without the hassle of actually having one.
The idea for the robot was conceived by MIT's Head of Center for Bits and Atoms Neil Gershenfeld, who offerd this statement. "[The robot] is effectively a one-dimensional robot that can be made in a continuous strip, without conventionally moving parts, and then folded into arbitrary shapes" The little copper-esque machine can hold its shape even after the power has been turned off.
[via MIT News]