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The sheet, less than a half-millimeter thick, “is studded with thin foil actuators and flexible electronics. The demonstration material contains 25 total actuators, divided into five groupings. A shape is produced by triggering the proper actuator groups in sequence,” the statement explains.
The shape-shifter takes a four-step approach to figures out how to rearrange itself. Step one: Take a 3-D model of a completed origami shape, and then reverse-engineer it to see what kind of “folding paths” are needed to get there. Step two: Take that information to “produc[e] a discrete folding plan” for each tile group, Wood and his fellow researchers note in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The third algorithm receives each of the individual plans [and] assembles them onto one sheet…. Finally, the fourth algorithm chooses the optimum arrangement [to] minimize either the number of actuators or number of actuator groups.”From there, the thin little machine gets to transforming itself. In Darpa’s dreams, this work will eventually lead to everything from morphing aircraft to self-styling uniforms to a “universal spare part.”