Flexible robots in review

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Origami Outfits Help Bots Retool / View Guide

1. The video showed that the origami robots could glide. Can you find an article about tiny flying beelike robots?

Possible student response: The article “Insect-sized bot is first to both fly, land,” published 6/25/2016, discusses the RoboBee, a robot about the size of a real bee. It has flapping wings to fly and four pinlike legs to land. It can also use static electricity to cling to the underside of a leaf or other perches. By spending as much time perching as possible and only flying when necessary, the RoboBee can greatly extend how long it can operate before it has to recharge its energy supply. (Another Science News article that students may find is “Fleets of drones could pollinate future crops,” published 3/18/2017, which shows how larger flying robots could act like bees to pollinate plants if too many real bees are killed by habitat loss, disease or pesticide exposure. There is also a Science News for Students version of the article, “Fleets of flying robots could pollinate crops.”)

2. Can you find an article about a different origami robot that is operated by a laser?  

Possible student response: The article “Laser light turns graphene paper into a microbot,” published 11/6/2015, discusses how researchers made a simple origami robot out of graphene paper, a graphene and polymer composite material that absorbs water from humid air or a damp surface. The graphene paper flattens out when damp and folds into an arch shape when dry. Hitting it with a laser causes it to transition from its flat damp shape to its arched dry shape. When the laser shuts off, the graphene absorbs more moisture and flattens out again. Pulsing the laser on and off slowly causes the graphene paper to move like an inchworm, repeatedly arching up and flattening.

3. Another way for robots to transform their shape and function is for many smaller robots to join together in various configurations. Can you find an earlier article about “composite robots” with a “hive mind”? 

Possible student response: The article “In these bot hookups, the machines meld their minds,” published 9/12/2017, discusses composite robots made of many miniature robots. Each robot has its own wheels, sensors and computer processor, and can operate independently. However, groups of the robots can assemble into different shapes to perform different tasks as a single entity. When the robots are clustered together, one of them is selected to serve as the “brain unit” for all of the others in the cluster. That master robot receives data from all of the other robots’ sensors and directs the actions of all the robots. Having one master robot per cluster yielded faster and better responses than having decentralized control, with every robot trying to function and coordinate with the other robots in the cluster.