Technology 3 min read

Origami-Inspired Rollbot Could Be the Future of Soft Robots

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Researchers at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Caltech have developed a self-folding robot. They’re calling it the Rollbot.

Many of the soft robots that exist today rely on an external power source and control to function. As a result, their movement remains restricted by off-board systems or hard components.

However, based on a paper that was recently published in ScienceRobotics, that could change soon.

The researchers at SEAS and Caltech described how they developed a soft robotic system that can move and change shape in response to external stimuli. As you may have guessed, this study could pave the way for fully untethered soft robots.

How An Origami-Inspired a Self-Folding “Rollbot”

Origami can be folded sequentially to encode multiple shapes and functionalities while maintaining a single structure. Using this same principle, the researchers decided to create a soft multifunctional robot.

So, they 3D-printed soft hinges using liquid crystal elastomers – a material that can change shape on exposure to heat. Not only does this mean the hinge can fold at different temperatures, but the researchers could also program it to fold in a specific order.

Co-first author of the paper and graduate student at SEAS and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Arda Kotikian noted:

“With our method of 3-D printing active hinges, we have full programmability over temperature response, the amount of torque the hinges can exert, their bending angle, and fold orientation. Our fabrication method facilitates integrating these active components with other materials.”

The SEAS and Caltech team built several robots to demonstrate the efficacy of this method, including an untethered soft robot called “Rollbot.”

At first glance, the Rollbot is a flat sheet that’s about 4 cm wide and 8 cm long. But on a hot surface – about 200 degrees celsius – a set of hinges fold and the machine curls into a pentagonal wheel.

The engineers embedded another set of hinges on each of the five sides of the wheel. So, when placed on a hot surface, the hinges fold and unfold to create a rolling motion.

“These untethered structures can be passively controlled,” said Kotikian. “In other words, all we need to do is expose the structures to specific temperature environments, and they will respond according to how we programmed the hinges.”

Although the study focused on the robots to respond to temperature, liquid crystal elastomers can be programmed to respond to other external stimuli. These include lighthumiditypH, among others.

Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics at Caltech and co-lead author of the study, Chiara Daraioconcluded:

“These works demonstrate how the combination of responsive polymers in an architected composite can lead to materials with self-actuation in response to different stimuli. In the future, such materials can be programmed to perform ever more complex tasks, blurring the boundaries between materials and robots.”

Read More: New Technique Uses Magnetic Field and Light to Control Soft Robots

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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