A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) developed the Primer, a cube-shaped robot that is able to walk, roll, sail and glide using magnets.
It uses different exoskeletons that start as sheets of plastic folded into specific shapes when heated up. After the task is complete, it is able to get rid of one exoskeleton by dissolving the plastic sheet in water.
Daniela Rus, CSAIL director and principal investigator on the project, said: "If we want robots to help us do things, it's not very efficient to have a different one for each task. With this metamorphosis-inspired approach, we can extend the capabilities of a single robot by giving it different 'accessories' to use in different situations."
Shuguang Li, one of the co-authors of the study, added: "Imagine future applications for space exploration, where you could send a single robot with a stack of exoskeletons to Mars. The robot could then perform different tasks by wearing different 'outfits.'"
The Primer's Wheel-bot can move twice as fast than in other modes whilst the Boat-bot allows it to float on water and carry twice its weight. The Glider-bot allows the robot to soar longer distances and two exoskeletons are able to be combined to carry out different tasks.
Eric Diller, a microrobotics expert and assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto, commented: "This work represents an advance over the authors' previous work in that they have now demonstrated a scheme that allows for the creation of five different functionalities. Previous work at most shifted between only two functionalities, such as 'open' or 'closed' shapes."