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A method for building self-folding machines

Science  08 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6197, pp. 644-646
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252610

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Folding robots and metamaterials

The same principles used to make origami art can make self-assembling robots and tunable metamaterials—artificial materials engineered to have properties that may not be found in nature (see the Perspective by You). Felton et al. made complex self-folding robots from flat templates. Such robots could potentially be sent through a collapsed building or tunnels and then assemble themselves autonomously into their final functional form. Silverberg et al. created a mechanical metamaterial that was folded into a tessellated pattern of unit cells. These cells reversibly switched between soft and stiff states, causing large, controllable changes to the way the material responded to being squashed.

Science, this issue p. 644, p. 647; see also p. 623

Abstract

Origami can turn a sheet of paper into complex three-dimensional shapes, and similar folding techniques can produce structures and mechanisms. To demonstrate the application of these techniques to the fabrication of machines, we developed a crawling robot that folds itself. The robot starts as a flat sheet with embedded electronics, and transforms autonomously into a functional machine. To accomplish this, we developed shape-memory composites that fold themselves along embedded hinges. We used these composites to recreate fundamental folded patterns, derived from computational origami, that can be extrapolated to a wide range of geometries and mechanisms. This origami-inspired robot can fold itself in 4 minutes and walk away without human intervention, demonstrating the potential both for complex self-folding machines and autonomous, self-controlled assembly.

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