Origami That Folds Itself

Harvard University

A marriage of origami and robotics

Research team creates sheets that can shift shapes on their own

Researchers at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are learning to reshape the landscape of programmable matter by devising self-folding sheets that rely on the ancient art of origami.
The research team demonstrated how a single thin sheet composed of interconnected triangular sections could transform itself into a boat or plane shape — without the help of skilled fingers. The findings were published in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on Monday (June 28).

The lead authors are Robert Wood, associate professor of electrical engineering 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. Using a concept called programmable matter by folding, the researchers 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.

Shape-shifting sheets automatically fold into multiple shapes

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.

Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory

Soft Robotics: "Programmable Matter"
We are creating multi-functional materials with embedded sensing, actuation, communication, and computation. Our programmable matter sheets are currently self-reconfigurable and capable of forming multiple user-defined structural components and objects.

CSAIL researchers Daniela Rus and Erik Demaine, in partnership with Harvard University's Robert Wood, have developed a small resin-fiberglass sheet programmed to fold itself into three-dimensional shapes.

At this point, the object can only take on two shapes—but it's a major development in the burgeoning field of computational origami. And if you can teach a flat sheet to form itself into a multitude three-dimensional shape, the applications are endless. Read more about the research here 

A marriage of origami and robotics | Harvard Gazette Online
Shape-shifting sheets automatically fold into multiple shapes — Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
YouTube - BoatPlane01.mpg
Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory
Origami That Folds Itself | CSAIL

Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory | CSAIL
Programmable matter by folding — PNAS
Origami that folds itself : Nature News
Relying on origami techniques, researchers show programmable matter folding into a boat- or plane-shape
Self-folding sheet offers lazy way to origami - tech - 28 June 2010 - New Scientist
Shifty Science: Programmable Matter Takes Shape with Self-Folding Origami Sheets: Scientific American
Origami Transformers? Programmable Matter May Be More Than Meets The Eye
MIT boffins exhibit self-forming 'programmable matter' • The Register
MIT, Harvard researchers create programmable self-folding origami sheets | ZDNet
MIT, Harvard Researchers Create "Smart Sheets" That Can Self-Assemble Into Airplanes, Boats | Popular Science