Roboticists are using an ancient paper folding technique to develop lightweight and compact autonomous machines. These robots, called OrigaMechs, are made from thin, flexible sheets that are simpler and cheaper to create.
Fabrication Technique for Foldable Robots
An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering has developed a new fabrication technique for foldable robots that don’t rely on semiconductors. The team published their findings in Nature Communications.
To create these robots, the researchers embedded flexible and electrically conductive materials into a thin polyester film sheet. They integrated information-processing units, or transistors, with sensors and actuators. The sheet was then programmed with computer analogical functions to emulate semiconductors. When cut, folded, and assembled, the sheet transformed into an autonomous robot capable of sensing, analyzing, and responding to its environment.
“OrigaMechs” Computing Capabilities
The robots, named “OrigaMechs,” derive their computing capabilities from a combination of mechanical origami multiplexed switches and programmed Boolean logic commands. The switches selectively output electrical signals based on pressure and heat input.
To showcase the robot system’s potential, the team built three robots:
- An insect-like walking robot that changes direction when either antennae sense an obstacle
- A Venus flytrap-like robot that envelopes an object when both jaw sensors detect it
- A reprogrammable two-wheeled robot that follows pre-designed paths of various geometric patterns
Although the robots in the demonstration were connected to a power source, the researchers aim to eventually equip them with embedded energy storage powered by thin-film lithium batteries.
Advantages and Applications
The chip-free design of these robots makes them suitable for extreme environments where traditional semiconductor-based electronics might fail. These environments include areas with strong radiation, magnetic fields, radio frequency signals, or electrostatic discharges.
Origami robots could be especially useful in dangerous or unpredictable scenarios such as during disasters. Specialty robots could be designed and manufactured quickly on demand.
The flat packaging of pre-assembled flexible robots enables significant space savings, making them ideal for space missions. Additionally, these low-cost and lightweight robots have potential applications in education, toys, and games.
The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, and the team is filing a patent through the UCLA Technology Development Group.