Self-folding origami robot could save lives

DPA Washington | Updated on August 19, 2014

A new robot that constructs its own body out of flat sheets of paper and plastic, using the energy from a standard AA battery to power a circuit, is being compared to the Japanese art of paper folding, origami.

A research team at Harvard University came up with the idea. After putting itself together, the robot can move off at a speed of 5.4 centimetres per second, the design team led by Rob Wood reported in the journal Science.

The robot is the first to be able to build itself and then manoeuvre without human intervention, opening up a range of applications.

“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,” said lead author Sam Felton.

“They could take images, collect data, and more,” he added.

Another possibility is flat—pack rescue robots slipped into cavities, where they unfold to look for victims trapped after an earthquake.

They could also be used as self—building accommodation for regions hit by natural disaster.

In particular, the method provides an alternative to traditional construction methods.

The robot consists of paper and polystyrene, the plastic from which CD cases are made. At its core is an electronic circuit that functions as its brain. Special hinges change shape with heat into pre-programmed folds.

To make itself the robot heats the hinges in a pre-determined sequence to around 100 degrees Celsius, folding itself gradually from a flat sheet into its ultimate shape.

After around four minutes the polystyrene has cooled and hardened, and the robot is ready to move off, powered by two motors and capable of manoeuvring.

“Here we created a full electromechanical system that was embedded into one flat sheet,” Felton said.

The team took inspiration from traditional Japanese origami.

3D—design software, a programme called Origamizer, created the folds in the plastic along which the robot folds itself.

“There is a great deal that we can improve based on this foundational step,” said Felton, outlining plans for different shapes and stronger polymers requiring less heat.

While researchers have long worked on making a self—constructing robot, this is the first to be able to do so and then operate without human intervention, according to Science.

Published on August 19, 2014

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