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Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Harvard roboticists have engineered a folding robot that can move without batteries. The origami robots, which are about the size of a quarter, could have biomedical applications. Imagine "robots that you could swallow and then … control their motions for diagnostic procedures, biopsies, drug delivery," says study author Robert Wood from Harvard University.

How it works: Wirelessly induced electrical currents are delivered to the robot's "muscles" — mechanical actuators — to activate them. The robot can change shape — including returning to its original configuration — when heated with electrical current because of the specialized metal alloy coils in its joints. The combination of the two features allows the researchers to fold and unfold the robots parts independent of each other, or together, creating complex movements. For example, this technology could get a ship in a bottle to move its sail without any connection.

What's new: The complexity of movement is what sets these robots apart, says Harvard's Mustafa Boyvat, another author on the study. "We can remotely select which folds to actuate and control the time to do that with ability to repeat." Existing designs typically require wires or electronics on board the robot, which can make them heavier and unsafe to swallow. Roboticists at MIT created an origami robot controlled by magnets but it can fold only once.

What's next: "Go smaller," says Boyvat, who plans to work with doctors on the next iterations of the robots. They're small, but not small enough to swallow yet, and there are, unsurprisingly, a host of concerns about ingesting machines.

Go deeper

A new Washington

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Image

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the city should expect a "new normal" for security — even after President-elect Biden's inauguration.

The state of play: Inaugurations are usually a point of celebration in D.C., but over 20,000 troops are now patrolling Washington streets in an unprecedented preparation for Biden's swearing-in on Jan. 20.

Mike Pence calls Kamala Harris to offer congratulations and help

Mike Pence. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty

Vice President Mike Pence called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Thursday to congratulate her and offer assistance in the transition, the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: The belated conversation came six days before the inauguration after a contentious post-election stretch. President Trump has neither spoken with President-elect Joe Biden, nor explicitly conceded the 2020 election.

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

The coronavirus variants: What you need to know

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New variants of the coronavirus circulating globally appear to increase transmission and are being closely monitored by scientists.

Driving the news: The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March if no measures are taken to control the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.