3D-Printed Robot Self-Assembles When Heated, So The Robot Apocalypse Just Became Inevitable

Ok, it’s time to give up any hope that the robot apocalypse won’t happen, because it will: Researchers at MIT have developed a 3D-printed robot that self-assembles when heated. That is, it requires no humans at all to take form. It’s still in the prototype phase, but no matter: This is clearly the beginning of the end.

The team prints out two-dimensional* sheets of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), places them between polyester film, and throws the whole thing into the oven. The heat causes the PVC to contract and the slits in the film to close. The closing of these slits causes creases in the PVC, which in turn direct its movement while it’s contracting. With some careful planning, this process can be used to shape the PVC into complex three-dimensional designs.

Researchers say they’d ultimately like to design robots that self-assemble differently based on what capabilities the user wants out of them.

“We have this big dream of the hardware compiler, where you can specify, ‘I want a robot that will play with my cat,’ or, ‘I want a robot that will clean the floor,’ and from this high-level specification, you actually generate a working device,” said Daniela Rus, who led the research team.

Here’s a video of the process in action:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on YouTube

Looks benign so far, but this could so easily get out of hand — especially after someone says, “I want a robot that will make other robots.” Shudder.

*Technically, the sheets — along with everything else that has a physical existence — are three-dimensional. They’re just really thin.