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Self-Folding Robot Assembles Autonomously

Researchers designed the first self-folding robot based on the ancient art of origami. This is how the robot does its trick, narrated by Natasha Pinol. [Credit: Samuel Felton, Science/AAAS]

Inspired by the traditional Japanese art form of origami, researchers have coaxed flat sheets of specialized paper and plastic to self-fold into complex machines that crawl and turn.

“We demonstrated this process by building a robot that folds itself and walks away without human assistance,” said Sam Felton, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Felton is the lead author of a new report on the robots in the 8 August issue of the journal Science.

“Folding allows you to avoid the ‘nuts and bolts’ assembly approaches typically used for robots or other complex electromechanical devices and it allows you to integrate components like electronics, sensors, and actuators while flat,” said Rob Wood, the Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences Core Faculty Member at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the study’s senior author.

Potential uses for these self-folding machines include search-and-rescue scenarios where they could be activated to navigate small tunnels or spaces. The fact that they could be shipped flat in large quantities, and then assembled on-site, makes them especially valuable. Other examples of their use include deployment into space for various forms of exploration or for self-folding shelters that rapidly assemble in disaster zones.


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