“Origami Robots” Self-Construct And Start Working

An origami robot begins to self-assemble... (Photo: Seth Kroll)

If you haven’t seen the origami robot yet, you’re in for a fantastic surprise! Evoking the potential of an ancient and wonderful Japanese art, these crawling robots can self-assemble from flat-pack designs and autonomously perform.

Inspired by self-assembly in nature—such as the way complex proteins with sophisticated functions derive from folding linear sequences of amino acids—-a team of engineers and computer scientists from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed the capable new creations.

Here’s the official abstract from this week’s issue of Science:

Origami can turn a sheet of paper into complex three-dimensional shapes, and similar folding techniques can produce structures and mechanisms. To demonstrate the application of these techniques to the fabrication of machines, we developed a crawling robot that folds itself. The robot starts as a flat sheet with embedded electronics, and transforms autonomously into a functional machine.

To accomplish this, we developed shape-memory composites that fold themselves along embedded hinges. We used these composites to recreate fundamental folded patterns, derived from computational origami, that can be extrapolated to a wide range of geometries and mechanisms. This origami-inspired robot can fold itself in 4 minutes and walk away without human intervention, demonstrating the potential both for complex self-folding machines and autonomous, self-controlled assembly.

Unfolding and crawling consumes about the same amount of energy as in one AA alkaline battery. The origami robot runs at a speed of about one-tenth of a mile per hour.

Robert J. Wood, Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS and a core faculty member at the Wyss Institute, served as senior author. A related article in the same issue of Science by Jesse L. Silverberg of Cornell et al. describes origami as a framework for mechanical metamaterial design that can be directly transferred to milli-, micro-, and nanometer-size systems.

The origami robot from Boston gives humans the ability to assembly-line sophisticated yet inexpensive automatons that can interact with their environment. The technique will enhance our manufacturing abilities and greatly expands the range of applications for robotics. Says lead author Sam Felton, a visionary doctoral student at SEAS:

“Imagine a ream of dozens of robotic satellites sandwiched together so that they could be sent up to space and then assemble themselves remotely once they get there. They could take images, collect data, and more….”

An origami robot completes self-assembly and moves away (Photo: Seth Kroll)


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