May.10, 2013

At this week's IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Germany, a cute inchworm robot was showed off to the public. The little robot can self-assemble based on the "shape memory" characteristics of the polymers in its construction. And, it was 3D printed.

(Image credit:

IEET Spectrum explains how it works:

Self-folding happens thanks to shape memory polymers that contract when heated. By printing these polymers on one side of a hinged substrate and then heating them, the hinge can be made to bend. The amount of bend is controlled by etching flexible connectors that connect both sides of the hinge, and with enough hinges heated in the right order, it's possible to create fairly complex folded shapes, including things like interlocking structural elements.


The tricky part of the process is the folding of the robot itself: installing the battery and motor is trivial enough for a human to do, which means that a relatively simple pick and place robot should have no problems doing the same thing. This means that these robots have the potential to scale massively: they can be printed out of cheap materials, they fold themselves together, and another robot can plonk some hardware on them and they're good to go.

The researchers, Samuel Felton, Michael Thomas and Robert Wood from Harvard and Cagdas Onal and Daniela Rus from MIT, explain that this inchworm robot was designed to demonstrate sequential folding, angle-controlled folds, slot-and-tab assembly, and mountain and valley folds. Upon the application of sufficient current, the robot was able to fold into its functional form with fold angle deviations within six degrees. This 3D printed robot demonstrated locomotion at a speed of two millimeters per second.

Watch the video below the 3D printed robot self-assemble using the "shape memory" characteristics of the polymers.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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