Robots and Origami: Designing and 3D Printing Foldable Robots | TechWell

Robots and Origami: Designing and 3D Printing Foldable Robots


If you think origami is limited to folding a sheet of paper into a crane, you’re out of touch.

Now there’s Interactive Robogami, a new system under development from researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) that gives those of us who are neither a roboticist nor a mechanical engineer the tools to design our own robots.  

The idea is that you can design a robot in minutes and then 3D print and assemble it in approximately four hours. Instead of working with separate systems, users can determine both the robot’s movement (“gait”) and shape (“geometry”) from a single system.

To create and customize a robot body, users will be able to mix and match print—and fold parts from a catalog. The database includes wheeled robots, along with robots with legs, so you can build as complex a structure as you want. How do you want your robot to move? Roll or walk? Select from a list of suggestions for motion parameters, which you can then modify. By analyzing factors such as speed and stability and offering suggestions, the system will help ensure that the robot is functional as well.  

The next step, fabrication, uses the origami-inspired “3D print and fold” technique. With these robots, the design is printed as flat sheets and then folded into 3D structures. By combining the most effective elements of 2D and 3D printing for rapid prototyping, lightweight, affordable, and versatile robots can be produced within a short turnaround time.

“What we envision for the future is that a user would be able to go into the system and basically define the behavior of this robot in terms of tasks,” explained PhD graduate Cynthia Sung, one of the researchers on the project. “You can very quickly design a tool that you can print out and that will help you do these tasks very cheaply, very quickly, very easily.”

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation's Expeditions in Computing program. For more information, here’s the research paper published in the International Journal of Robotics Research: Interactive robogami: An end-to-end system for design of robots with ground locomotion.

Are you a Maker? If you are, you’ve undoubtedly come across at least a few robots at a Maker Faire. While the Robogami process isn’t widely available as yet, if you’re up for a challenge, Makezine has an article that will guide you through building a realistic R2-D2. Good luck!

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