There seem to be two major camps when it comes to robotic research these days: those working to create the most capable and human-like robots with no concern over cost, and those looking to build useful robots but on the cheap. And the researchers at Harvard and MIT behind this printable inchworm, obviously fall into that latter category.

The robot's shape memory polymers—which automatically fold into a pre-determined shape with the addition of a little current—of course can't be printed on your home inkjet machine. But the fact that they can be printed, even from an industrial printer, is what's exciting here. It allows them to be mass produced which in turn makes them more affordable.

And while this simple inchworm isn't exactly going to have everyone whipping out their credit cards demanding one, the research behind it will pave the way for more complex robots that can automatically get up and walk away as the printer spits them out. Perfect for cheap cyborg butlers, or building your own legion of robotic doom. [YouTube via IEEE Spectrum]