Even origami--that centuries-old art of folding paper into delicate shapes--isn't safe from the cold, metal hand of robotics. Thanks to scientists at Harvard and MIT, programmable electronic sheets can now fold themselves into a cute little boat or plane that virtually any origami aficionado could appreciate.
Why would the brilliant minds at two of the nation's top universities concern themselves with the likes of origami? The technology behind the self-folding sheets, they say, could lead to all sorts of shape-shifting devices, including "smart" cups that adjust themselves based on the amount of liquid needed, or Swiss Army knife-type devices that could transform themselves into tools like wrenches and tripods.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) helped fund the research, which suggests the multitasking material could hold promise for military applications where space--and free hands--are limited.
The researchers, who detail their work this week in an online issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, constructed the thin and flexible sheets from a composite of rigid tiles and elastomer joints.
Their material, which they call "programmable matter by folding," is studded with thin foil actuators. The sheets are made up of interconnected triangular sections with universal crease patterns; triggering the right actuator groups in sequence leads the sheets to fold themselves into a given shape. … Read more