Origami-Inspired Robot Folds Itself Up from Flat Sheet and Walks Away

A team of engineers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and MIT has built an autonomous robot that starts out as a single composite sheet programmed to fold itself into a complex shape and crawl away without any human intervention. In this video, Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Rob Wood and SEAS Ph.D. student Sam Felton discuss their landmark achievement in robotics. The researchers started with a flat sheet, to which they added two motors, two batteries, and a microcontroller. The sheet was a composite of paper and Shrinky dinks™, also called polystyrene, and a single flexible circuit board in the middle. It also included hinges that were programmed to fold at specific angles. Each hinge contained embedded circuits that produce heat on command from the microcontroller. The heat triggers the composite to self-fold in a series of steps. When the hinges cool after about four minutes, the polystyrene hardens - making the robot stiff - and the microncontroller then signals the robot to crawl away at a speed of about one-tenth of a mile per hour. The entire event consumed about the same amount of energy in one AA alkaline battery.