Shrinky Dinks Origami Robots – Welcome To Your Future

Origami robots — made of paper and a thin piece of plastic — that actually walk under their own power using Shrinky Dinks technology?

Yeah. They exist.

Imagine walking into a Kinkos or an Office Max and asking them to print you up an Origami robot. That technology and opportunity will be available shortly, according to a report from New Scientist. A team of brainiacs led by microbiotics engineers Sam Felton and Robert Wood at Harvard University developed the new origami robots that are real life Transformers. The goal was relatively simple — and yet groundbreaking: devise a robot made from the simplest materials that would start out flat, unfold on its own, and walk away.

Here’s a video of the origami robot they came up with:

How did they do it? Designers used a flat sheet of pre-folded plastic for the body of the origami robots. They then used laser-cut copper tracks to lay in the folds. They affixed two microcircuits with batteries to heat the tracks which were attached to Shrinky Dinks — the children toys that contract when heated, according to a recap of the process in The Star. Once fully transformed, the origami robots contain motors that engage with gears, and the legs walk.

So what’s the purpose of the origami robots other than perhaps an interesting toy for your cat? Well, the designers think that one day the origami robots might be deployed into hard to reach places — say an earthquake-damaged building. The origami robots could be deployed into the wreckage via drones, unfold, and search for survivors.

Felton, one of the designers, also envisioned flat pieces easily sent into space that could transform into origami robot satellites.

Wood, the other team leader for the origami robot project, said that he believes the entire robot manufacture process can one day be automated, making the origami robots truly self assembling:

“The underlying steps required to make the structure have been designed to be easily automated.”

Chris Melhuish, director of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the U.K., says what the Harvard team has done is great, and that there’s serious engineering reasons to come up with robots that can “self-organize” without the aid of a computer, saying it’s part of a new robotics trend called “morphological computation.”

“If you’re clever, you can design the material so that its shape is in charge of the robot’s self-organization rather than a complicated and expensive computer. That is precisely what they’ve done here. It’s promising stuff.”

[Image via UPI]