May 31, 2014

Inspired by the Japanese art of folding called origami, MIT researchers have created 3D printable robots that self-assemble when heated using new algorithms and electronic components.

At this year's IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Hong Kong this weekend, Daniela Rus, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT, is set to introduce a new idea of 3D printable robots called Bakeable robots.

The team has built printable robotic components that, when heated, automatically fold into 3D configurations. The reserachers will explain how to build electrical components from self-folding laser-cut materials and present designs for resistors, inductors, and capacitors, as well as sensors and actuators - the electromechanical "muscles" that enable robots' movements.

"We have this big dream of the hardware compiler, where you can specify, 'I want a robot that will play with my cat,' or 'I want a robot that will clean the floor,' and from this high-level specification, you actually generate a working device," Rus said in a statement.

"So far, we have tackled some subproblems in the space, and one... is this end-to-end system where you have a picture, and at the other end, you have an object that realizes that picture."

Before-and-after stills from the video "An End-to-End Approach to Making Self-Folded 3D Surface Shapes by Uniform Heating." The left image shows the self-folding sheet for a humanoid shape, while the right image shows the completed self-folded humanoid shape. Image: MIT

All the angles

Team member Shuhei Miyashita explained their new work uses a technique for precisely controlling the angles at which a heated sheet folds. By sandwiching a sheet of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) between two films of a rigid polyester riddled with slits of different widths, the PVC contracts when heated and the slits close, Miyashita said.

Where edges of the polyester film press up against each other, they deform the PVC. For instance, if a slit in the top polyester film and another parallel to it in the bottom film. But suppose, too, that the slit in the top film is narrower than that on the bottom. As the PVC contracts, the edges of the top slit will press against each other, but there will still be a gap between the edges of the bottom slit.


The entire sheet will then bend downward until the bottom edges meet. The final angle is a function of the difference in the widths of the top and bottom slits. But producing the pattern of slits is not as simple as just overlaying them on an origami crease pattern and adjusting the widths, Rus says.

"You're doing this really complicated global control that moves every edge in the system at the same time," she says. "You want to design those edges in such a way that the result of composing all these motions, which actually interfere with each other, leads to the correct geometric structure."

Folding electronics

Reseachers also describes in a paper that they have used a polyester coated with aluminum to create foldable electronics. Miyashita designed those components by hand, since it was necessary to prescribe not just their geometric properties but also their electrical properties.

The sensor Miyashita designed looks kind of like a small accordion. Each of the accordion folds contains a separate resistor, and when the folds are compressed, the total resistance changes proportionally.


The actuator - which would enable a robot to move - is a foldable coil, which would need to be augmented with a pair of iron cylinders that could be magnetised by an electrical current. Aluminum isn't a good enough conductor to yield an actuator, but a copper-coated polyester should do the trick.

Source: By Larry Hardesty, MIT


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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