Using origami design principles to fold reprogrammable mechanical metamaterials

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Science  08 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6197, pp. 647-650
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252876

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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


Although broadly admired for its aesthetic qualities, the art of origami is now being recognized also as a framework for mechanical metamaterial design. Working with the Miura-ori tessellation, we find that each unit cell of this crease pattern is mechanically bistable, and by switching between states, the compressive modulus of the overall structure can be rationally and reversibly tuned. By virtue of their interactions, these mechanically stable lattice defects also lead to emergent crystallographic structures such as vacancies, dislocations, and grain boundaries. Each of these structures comes from an arrangement of reversible folds, highlighting a connection between mechanical metamaterials and programmable matter. Given origami’s scale-free geometric character, this framework for metamaterial design can be directly transferred to milli-, micro-, and nanometer-size systems.

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