This "smart sheet" can instantly fold into a boat or a plane without any human assistance. It's the first step toward being able to carry any imaginable tool around with you in the form of a single paper-like sheet.
Called programmable matter, the sheet is made up of interconnected triangular sections. These sections are arranged using principles of the ancient Japanese art of origami. As lead author Robert Wood explains:
"The process begins when we first create an algorithm for folding. Similar to a set of instructions in an origami book, we determine, based upon the desired end shapes, where to crease the sheet."
The sheet has lots of little switches and tiny strips of circuitry, which are organized so that they can automatically manage the folding process without any human input. All the engineers have to do is provide the proper amount of electricity to what they've nicknamed an "Origami robot" and the folding begins. So what does the end result look like? Take a look for yourself:
The sheet isn't just a cool toy, either. (Although it is one hell of a cool toy.) Its designers see some practical purposes for the folding technology, like smart cups that can automatically adjust in size based on how much liquid they contain or an all-purpose device that could reconfigure itself from a wrench to a tripod to...well, just about anything. As Robert Wood puts it:
The Shape-Shifting Sheets demonstrate an end-to-end process that is a first step towards making everyday objects whose mechanical properties can be programmed.
Read more via Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences