Aug 23, 2018 | By Thomas

A few months ago a team of researchers based at Carnegie Mellon University made use of 3D printing technology to create an impressive range of self-folding 3D objects. Now the researchers behind the technology are back with a kind of paper robot made of conductive 3D printed material and paper that folds and unfolds itself when an electrical current is applied.

A robotic grabber made of paper and 3D-printed actuator (Credit: Carnegie Mellon University)​

"We are reinventing this really old material," said Lining Yao, assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and director of the Morphing Matter Lab, who developed the method with her team. "Actuation truly turns paper into another medium, one that has both artistic and practical uses."

The trick is a 3D printed material called polylactide, a kind of thermoplastic that has shape-memory behavior. This is combined with graphene, which carries current, to make 3D-printed “ink.”

To create a paper robot, the researchers employed a FDM 3D printer and 3D-printed a 0.5mm layer of conductive ink on to plain paper as the actuator. They then heated it in an oven set at 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Once removed from the oven, the paper is bent or folded into a desired shape and allowed to cool. This will be the default shape of the paper. Electrical leads were then attached to the actuator and the operators used the current to heat the actuator, causing the thermoplastic to expand and thus straighten the paper. When the current is removed, the paper automatically returns to its default shape.

"Most robots - even those that are made of paper - require an external motor," says Guanyun Wang, a CMU Manufacturing Futures Initiative fellow. "Ours do not, which creates new opportunities, not just for robotics, but for interactive art, entertainment, and home applications."

Artificial mimosa leaves made of plain paper respond to human touch, thanks to a paper actuation technology developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute.
Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

To demonstrate the artistic potential, in June, more than 50 students in a workshop at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, used the paper actuation technology to create elaborate pop-up books, including interpretations of famous artworks, such as Van Gogh's Starry Night and Sunflowers.

Yao said the researchers are refining this method, changing the printing speed or the width of the line of thermoplastic to achieve different folding or bending effects. They have also reportedly developed methods for printing touch sensors, finger sliding sensors and bending angle detectors that can control the paper actuators.

Yao and her team hope to speed up the actuation by using papers that are more heat conductive and developing printing filaments that are customized for use in actuators. The same actuation used for paper might also be used for plastics and fabrics.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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