Pentagon scientists working with MIT and Harvard researchers have developed a paper-thin shape-shifting structure capable of transforming into a toy boat or a paper plane by itself. This development is of course the first step towards real-life Transformers.
The system is the result of DARPA research kicked off in 2007 to investigate the possibilities of creating programmable matter capable of forming everything from a wrench to body armor. This is the first result from the work, a kind of programmable origami made from stiff polymer tiles and 25 thin foil actuators. In function, a programmer creates the desired three-dimensional shape, the system analyzes the shape, determines the steps necessary to get there, and proceeds to fold up on its own. Researches hope to use this kind of technology to develop better armor, on-site replacement parts, and vehicles which can adapt to an environment on the fly. One day they hope to be able to create an amorphous material without such joints, more of a fluid which mold itself into any kind of shape on command.
If you're freaking out because that sounds a little too much like the T1000 from Terminator 2, you should be, because that's pretty much what they're aiming for. [Wired via Drudge]