There are plenty of things we bake: cupcakes, pies, cakes, brownies, bread and doughnuts, for example. And, there are certain things we DON’T bake: among, them robots. That is, until now.

To be clear, we aren’t talking about baking a cake in the shape of a robot. Researchers at MIT are working on new technology and materials that enable printable robotic components to self-assemble when heated.

It’s like Shrinky Dinks!

To bake a robot, a system takes the digital specification of a 3D shape such as a computer-aided design (CAD) file and generates 2D patterns to enable a piece of plastic to self-fold under heat.

The researchers have also developed a range of electromechanical components such as sensors, actuators, resisters and capacitors that enable robot movement. To create the foldable electronic components, the researchers used polyester coated with aluminum.

(Related: The People’s Programmable Robot)

If this technique is mastered, who knows what kind of robots we can develop on demand? A robot in the shape of a bunny? A robot that can let your dog out during the day? A robot that can bake other robots?

“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, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Electrical Engineering and Computer Science professor at MIT. “So far, we have tackled some subproblems in the space, and one of the subproblems is this end-to-end system where you have a picture, and at the other end, you have an object that realizes that picture. And the same mathematical models and principles that we use in this pipeline we also use to create these folded electronics.”

More information can he found here.