MIT, Harvard researchers create programmable self-folding origami sheets

MIT, Harvard researchers create programmable self-folding origami sheets

Summary: Researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) have developed self-folding smart sheets of fiberglass that largely rely on the ancient art of origami.

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Researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) have developed  self-folding smart sheets of fiberglass inspired by the ancient art of origami.

The team demonstrated how a single thin sheet composed of interconnected half-millimeter thick and half-inch-wide triangular sections could transform itself into simple forms that resemble their everyday paper equivalents, like a boat and a plane.

The concept could one day produce complex programmable shapes that transform into, for instance "smart" cups that adjust based upon the amount of liquid needed, or a "Swiss army knife" that could form into tools ranging from wrenches to tripods, say the researchers.

These "smart sheets" are essentially origami robots that will make any shape on demand. Robert Wood, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), explains; "The process begins when we first create an algorithm for folding. Similar to a set of instructions in an origami book, we determine, based upon the desired end shapes, where to crease the sheet."

The sheet itself is made up of rigid tiles and elastomer joints and is studded with thin foil actuators (motorized switches) and flexible electronics. The demonstration material contains twenty-five total actuators, divided into five groupings. A shape is produced by triggering the proper actuator groups in sequence. And this is accomplished via a series of stickers that contain the circuitry that prompts the actuators to make the folds, which are then held in placed by magnetic closures.

Scientific American delved into a recently published paper detailing the technology and reports: "Some of the joints have heat-sensitive actuators that bend 180 degrees when warmed by an electric current, folding the sheet over at that joint. Depending on the program used, the sheet will conduct a series of folds to yield the boat or airplane shape in about 15 seconds. The folding-sheet approach is an extension of the field of computational origami, the mathematical study of how flat objects can be folded into complex, three-dimensional structures."

The long-term aim of this technology is to make programmable matter more robust and practical, possibly making everyday objects whose mechanical properties can be programmed, says Wood.

According to Scientific American, Daniela Rus, a professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department at MIT who is also involved in the research, the computational origami technology could form the basis of three-dimensional display systems—for instance, maps that can reproduce the topography of a given region on demand. "You can imagine making machines that have the ability to give you three-dimensional views of the objects they render," Rus says.

"In the more distant future programmable matter applications might move beyond mere shape mimicry to involve programmable optical, electric or acoustic properties", the article concludes.

The video below shows a programmable sheet that self-folds into a boat- and into a plane-shape:

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11 comments
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  • This is pretty cool stuff...

    This stuff sounds like a precursor to the stuff the fictional character Lucius Fox used for Batman's glider cape in the movie "Batman Begins".
    mr1972
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  • RE: MIT, Harvard researchers create programmable self-folding origami sheets

    You have to be kidding me, with all the problems facing the world today, we need programable folding aluminum foil? With all the research grants and scientific work that needs to be accomplished, this is proof positive of true collegian waste of time.
    Rob S.
    • RE: MIT, Harvard researchers create programmable self-folding origami sheets

      @Rob S.

      I have seen/heard of worse... how about using grant money and school resources for playing MMO games? It has been done at least once and it's sickening.

      At least this self folding tech could be applied in some real world scenarios (maybe).
      fibreoptik
    • You really have no vision whatsoever ...

      @Rob S.

      Why isn't it plain to you that this is the germ of an incredible breakthrough?

      Imagine what sort of amazing things could one day come out of this tech:

      - Portable crates of this stuff that could easily turn itself into a triage hospital at a disaster site, including the building, the furniture and the beds.
      - Factories and machines that can re-tool themselves in the middle of a production run.
      - Houses that can be one shape in the summer and another in the winter to maximize energy savings.
      - The ultimate futon.

      All this starts with basic research, and building little origami boats on a bench in some college somewhere.
      RationalGuy
  • RE: MIT, Harvard researchers create programmable self-folding origami sheets

    @Rob S.
    i am at par with you. it's really unthinkable to start some research that are yet to be completed, and proceed to start another one that seem... well... as @RationalGuy put it: "germ of an incredible breakthrough".

    @All: for my part this amount to an incredible WASTE of resources: time, money, intellect,... (somebody lend me a word...)
    akinola84
  • To those critical of this research...

    Persons saying that this research is a waste of money,time, etc.., probably also saw the creation of the Internet in the 1990's as a waste of money, time...very simple minds with loud opinions.
    john@...
  • RE: MIT, Harvard researchers create programmable self-folding origami sheets

    drrr drrr drrr
    Autobots roll out!
    ajcamargo
  • RE: MIT, Harvard researchers create programmable self-folding origami sheets

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