Paper structures built using the principles of origami could lead to cheap, easy-to-make robots that are very different than their more traditional metal brethren.George Whitesides and colleagues at Harvard University have previously builtsquid-inspired robots with artificial muscles made from soft plastic and powered by pneumatic air pumps. Now they have combined this technique with paper to create a series of lightweight structures capable of bending, twisting and even lifting heavy weights.
Surprisingly what you can do with paper (Image: R. Martinez, C. R. Fish, X. Chen, G. M. Whitesides/Wiley)
Paper is flexible, but unlike plastic it does not stretch, making it useful for forming rigid structures when a paper balloon is filled with air. For example, paper folded into a bellows-like shape embedded in flexible plastic extends straight upwards when inflated, creating a 1-centimetre-wide tube weighing just over 8 grams that is able to lift a 1 kilogram weight.Gluing different parts of the bellows together lets it inflate into a U shape or twist as it extends.
These simple designs could be improved upon to create “soft” robots able to work closely with humans, unlike some robots currently used on factory assembly lines. The team says they could be used to provide extra hands for surgeons or handle delicate objects such as eggs or fruit.
Journal reference: Advanced Functional Materials, DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201102978