Self-folding machines use heated hinges to transform
Seth Kroll/Wyss Institute
A new crawling robot has taken a page from origami design.
The machine’s paper-and-plastic body can spring from flat to 3-D just like a pop-up book, researchers report in the Aug. 8 Science. And the action is automatic.
Engineers have built gizmos that can do some self-folding, but they also required hands-on help from humans. By embedding heaters in the robot’s hinges, Harvard microrobotics engineer Sam Felton and colleagues created a device that shifts shape on its own, using preprogrammed temperature changes.
A tiny onboard computer tells the heaters which hinges to warm first. The hinges are made of a polymer that contracts when heated, pulling the robot’s parts together. When the hinges cool, they lock into a folded position. Then two motors jiggle the bot’s legs, making the machine shimmy along in a slow crawl.