Robots inspired by origami fold themselves into motion

Aug 10, 2014

By Victoria Gill


Researchers in the US have developed self-folding robots that are able to take shape and crawl without human intervention.

The robots are inspired by the ancient Japanese art of origami.

They are made from flat layers of material; some of these are rigid and hold their shape, while others are made of a heat-shrinking polymer.

Embedded elements within these layers provide heat, allowing the robot to self-construct.

The advance is reported in the journal Science.

The Harvard team say this origami-inspired engineering could allow people to make complex objects and devices much more cheaply and easily.

“I’m sure people have seen in examples of origami – you can use folding to create fantastically complex structures,” said Harvard professor Robert Wood, who led the research.

“But once the complexity of these things exceeds a threshold, folding them by hand becomes painstaking.”

So he and his team, including collaborators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wanted to demonstrate the power of folding by designing a complex machine that could fold itself.

The team created a flat-layered design, including self-folding hinges that were controlled by embedded heating elements.

“We [incorporated] motors and batteries while it was flat,” explained Prof Wood. These powered the final robot’s walking motion.

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