Shape-shifting sheets automatically fold into multiple shapes (w/ Video)

Jun 28, 2010 By Michael Patrick Rutter

"More than meets the eye" may soon become more than just a tagline for a line of popular robotic toys. Researchers at Harvard and MIT have reshaped the landscape of programmable matter by devising self-folding sheets that rely on the ancient art of origami.

Called programmable matter by folding, the team demonstrated how a single thin sheet composed of interconnected triangular sections could transform itself into a boat- or plane-shape—all without the help of skilled fingers.

Published in the online Early Edition of the (PNAS) during the week of June 28, lead authors Robert Wood, associate professor of at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a core faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and Daniela Rus, a professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department at MIT and co-director of the CSAIL Center for Robotics, envision creating "smart" cups that could adjust based upon the amount of liquid needed or even a "Swiss army knife" that could form into tools ranging from wrenches to tripods.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A programmable sheet self-folds into a boat- and into a plane-shape. Credit: Robert Wood, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Daniella Rus, MIT/CSAIL.

"The process begins when we first create an algorithm for folding," explains Wood. "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, a thin composite of rigid tiles and elastomer joints, 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.

To initiate the on-demand folding, the team devised a series of stickers, thin materials that contain the circuitry able to prompt the actuators to make the folds. This can be done without a user having to access a computer, reducing "programming" to merely placing the stickers in the appropriate places. When the sheet receives the proper jolt of current, it begins to fold, staying in place thanks to magnetic closures.

"Smart sheets are Origami Robots that will make any shape on demand for their user," says Rus. "A big achievement was discovering the theoretical foundations and universality of folding and fold planning, which provide the brain and the decision making system for the smart sheet."

The fancy folding techniques were inspired in part by the work of co-author Erik Demaine, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and one of the world's most recognized experts on computational .

While the Harvard and MIT engineers only demonstrated two simple shapes, the proof of concept holds promise. The long-term aim is to make programmable matter more robust and practical, leading to materials that can perform multiple tasks, such as an entire dining utensil set derived from one piece of foldable material.

"The Shape-Shifting Sheets demonstrate an end-to-end process that is a first step towards making everyday objects whose mechanical properties can be programmed," concludes Wood.

Explore further: Chinese scientists unveil liquid phase 3-D printing method using low melting metal alloy ink

More information: www.pnas.org/content/early/recent

Related Stories

Printed origami offers new technique for complex structues

Apr 14, 2010

Although it looks small and unassuming, the tiny origami crane sitting in a sample dish in University of Illinois professor Jennifer Lewis' lab heralds a new method for creating complex three-dimensional structures ...

Researchers develop a robot that folds towels (w/ Video)

Apr 05, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team from Berkeley's Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences department has figured out how to get a robot to fold previously unseen towels of different sizes. Their approach solves a key problem in ...

Scientists create custom 3D structures with 'DNA origami'

May 20, 2009

BOSTON--By combining the art of origami with nanotechnology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers have folded sheets of DNA into multilayered objects with dimensions thousands of times smaller than the thickness of a ...

Recommended for you

Researchers solves Gold Coast light rail noise issues

Sep 29, 2014

Lessons learned through Monash University research into the reduction of wheel squeal noise of trains in Hong Kong has assisted the GoldLinQ consortium to resolve noise problems with the new Gold Coast light ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

vivcollins
not rated yet Jun 28, 2010
What springs to mind is a more versatile exploration robot
Starblade_Enkai
not rated yet Jun 28, 2010
So, you're telling me one day I could be carrying a briefcase that turns into a space ship? Awesome!
MarkyMark
not rated yet Jun 29, 2010
On a camping trip my car would turn into a tank for rugged terrain and when i go to sleep it turns into a nice comfy tent.
ricarguy
2.3 / 5 (4) Jun 29, 2010
Marky,

What you envision is an SUV with fold down seats...
COCO
1 / 5 (1) Jun 30, 2010
Work at U Waterloo equally impressive see:

http://www.resear...rial.asp