Shape-shifting Robot presents Surgical Cabability
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Shape-shifting Robot presents Surgical Cabability

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a new shape-shifting robot that can transform itself using different “outfits” that allow it to perform different tasks.

It’s called “Primer,” and the miniature the cube-shaped robot can be controlled via magnets to make it walk, roll, sail, and glide.

“This can be an extraordinary future for medicine.”

It carries out these actions by wearing different exoskeletons, which start out as sheets of plastic that fold into specific shapes when heated. After Primer finishes its task, it can shed its “skin” by immersing itself in water, which dissolves the exoskeleton.

According to the BBC, the robots also hold the potential for use in surgical and medical procedures.

Daniela Rus, CSAIL director and principal investigator on the project told the BBC that CSAIL hopes to develop robots that could perform surgical procedures, including patching wounds, removing objects and taking samples.

Rus said: “Imagine taking the engine and swallowing it in the form of a pill, and then swallowing all the exoskeletons that would provide this robot with different tools. You now have a mini-surgeon that can perform procedures inside your body without incisions.

“This can be an extraordinary future for medicine.”


Primer robots can take various forms. “Wheel-bot” uses wheels to move twice as fast as “Walk-bot.” “Boat-bot” floats on water and can carry nearly twice its weight. “Glider-bot” can soar across longer distances, which could be useful for deploying robots or switching environments.

CSAIL says that Primer can even wear multiple outfits at once. It can add one exoskeleton to become “Walk-bot,” and then interface with another, larger exoskeleton that allows it to carry objects and move two body lengths per second. To deploy the second exoskeleton, “Walk-bot” steps onto the sheet, which then blankets the bot with its four self-folding arms.

The project was led by Rus and Shuhei Miyashita, a former CSAIL postdoc who is now director of the Microrobotics Group at the University of York.