Origami Robots Shape-Shift in Mid-Air for Controlled Descent

Researchers at the University of Washington have created tiny wind-dispersed robots, known as microfliers, that can fold and shape-shift in mid-air to control their descent. These microfliers, which are as light as a pumpkin seed and a few centimeters in size, are designed with origami folds that allow them to snap between two different shapes, each with a different falling behavior.

Associate Professor Vikram Iyer explains that when the origami structures are flatter, they spread outwards with the wind, resulting in a tumbling descent. On the other hand, with a different shape, the robot falls straight down. This ability to change shape enables the researchers to have fine-grained control over where the microfliers land.

Equipped with sensors to measure temperature, humidity, and other environmental conditions, the microfliers can be released by drones to disperse across an area for data collection. The folding action of the microfliers is powered by a small array of solar cells, along with an actuator made from a wire coil and a magnet. Additionally, the robots have an onboard computing chip, radio receiver and transmitter, timer, and sensors.

The shape change of the robot can be programed based on time, pressure, height, or controlled remotely. Moreover, these microfliers are battery-free, making them lighter and avoiding the environmental issues associated with batteries.

The researchers are also working on a project to create circuits on biodegradable materials. The ultimate goal is to integrate the battery-free design, biodegradable circuits, and origami shape-shifting for flight control. This would allow for the dispersal of these robots through the wind, achieving various sensing objectives, and eventually degrading naturally over time.

Overall, the development of these origami robots opens up new possibilities for controlled aerial deployment and data gathering in various environments.

– Science Robotics (Publication)
– University of Washington (Research Institution)