Small Origami Robots Fall from the Sky to Gather Environmental Data

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed small robotic devices that utilize origami techniques to change their shape in mid-air. These tiny “microfliers” are dropped from drones and transition from a flat, tumbling state to a folded position as they descend. The fold they use is called the Miura-ori fold, named after the astrophysicist Kōryō Miura who devised a method of folding a flat sheet of paper into a smaller area.

The timing of the transition from flat to folded is controlled by an onboard pressure sensor, an onboard timer, or a Bluetooth signal. Once folded, the devices fall straight down. Each microflier weighs around 400 milligrams and can travel approximately 100 yards when dropped from a height of 131 feet. They utilize an onboard battery-free actuator, a solar power-harvesting circuit, and a controller to trigger the shape changes in mid-air.

These microfliers have the ability to carry sensors for collecting data on temperature, humidity, and other environmental conditions. By gathering information during their descent, they could help researchers gain insights into various applications such as digital agriculture and climate change monitoring. A network of these devices could provide a comprehensive picture of the environment.

The researchers published their findings in Science Robotics, highlighting origami as a game-changing design principle for microfliers. Co-senior author Vikram Iyer, an assistant professor at the University of Washington, described the method as highly energy efficient and enabling battery-free control over the devices’ descent.

Vikram Iyer has been involved in various projects involving small, lightweight robots with low power consumption. The team’s work opens up new possibilities for exploring the potential of origami in robotics and further expanding the capabilities of microfliers.

Sources:
– University of Washington (https://www.washington.edu/news/2021/08/25/origami-microfliers-environmental-sensing/)
– Science Robotics (https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/scirobotics.abg3173)