Rus, Demaine help create first self-folding, fully-operational origami robot

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For years, a team of researchers at MIT and Harvard University has been working on origami robots — reconfigurable robots that would be able to fold themselves into arbitrary shapes.

In today’s issue of Science, a team featuring CSAIL researchers report that they've developed an origami robot, made almost entirely from parts produced by a laser cutter, that folds itself up and crawls away as soon as batteries are attached to it.

“The exciting thing here is that you create this device that has computation embedded in the flat, printed version,” says CSAIL Director Daniela Rus, one of the Science paper’s co-authors. “And when these devices lift up from the ground into the third dimension, they do it in a thoughtful way.”

Rus is joined on the paper by CSAIL principal investigator Erik Demaine, an MIT professor of computer science and engineering, and three researchers at Harvard.

Origami robotics is “a pretty powerful concept, because cutting planar things and folding is an inherently very low-cost process,” says Ronald Fearing, a UC-Berkeley professor who has been following the team's work. “Because they build it with the electronics on first, you can now choose which folds occur when. If you don’t have the electronics, then you’re limited to patterns where you heat up the whole thing and everything folds at once. So being able to do the timed sequence is a nice capability.”

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Research at Harvard, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Read more at MIT News.

Media coverage: Wired, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Mashable, and The Verge.