An Origami-inspired Take to Bolster Our Robotics’ Landscape

The human identity might be constructed upon many different elements, but honestly speaking, nothing defines us better than that tendency of growing on a consistent basis. This tendency to improve, no matter the situation, has enabled the world to hit upon some huge milestones, with technology appearing as quite a major member of the stated group. The reason why we hold technology in such a high regard is, by and large, centered on its skill-set, which realized all the possibilities for us that we couldn’t have imagined otherwise. Nevertheless, if we look beyond the surface, it will quickly become clear how the whole runner was also very much inspired from the way we applied those skills across a real world environment. The latter component, in fact, did a lot to give the creation a spectrum-wide presence and start what was a full-blown tech revolution. Of course, this revolution then went on to scale up the human experience from various unique directions, but even after achieving a feat so notable, technology will somehow continue producing the right goods. The same has turned more and more evident in recent times, and assuming a new robotics-themed discovery shakes out just like we envision, it will only put that trend on a higher pedestal moving forward.

A multidisciplinary team led by researchers at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering has successfully discovered a new fabrication technique, which can be used to build out fully foldable robots that will perform a variety of complex tasks without ever relying on semiconductors. Talk about how the whole setup was brought to life and how it works, by embedding flexible and electrically conductive materials into a pre-cut thin polyester film sheet, the researchers created a system of information-processing units or transistors that are notably open to an operational integration with sensors and actuators. Next up, the team moved on to programming the stated sheets through simple computer analogical functions. These functions, on their part, make a point to recreate those of semiconductors. Anyway, after the sheet is cut, folded and assembled, it takes up the shape of an autonomous robot that is smart enough to adapt as per their environment. Considering the methodology follows an ancient paper folding art called origami, the researchers involved here decided to make the connection evident by naming emerging robots as “OrigaMechs,” which is short for Origami MechanoBots.

“This work leads to a new class of origami robots with expanded capabilities and levels of autonomy while maintaining the favorable attributes associated with origami folding-based fabrication,” said Wenzhong Yan, leading author of the study and a UCLA mechanical engineering doctoral student.

Make no mistake; this technique of paper folding to develop autonomous machines out of thin flexible sheets has been around for a while now. However, given the rigid nature of computer chips traditionally needed to enable advanced robot capabilities, it would add extra weight to the thin sheet materials, thus making it a challenge to fold them. So, once you remove those chips, you instantly turn the whole mechanism into something much lighter and easier to mould. As for the stated robots’ computing capabilities, they are generated from a combination of mechanical origami multiplexed switches created by the folds and programmed Boolean logic commands, such as “AND,” “OR” and “NOT.” These switches, in particular, have a major role because of how they realize a protocol that selectively produces electrical signals based on the variable pressure and heat input into the system.

So far, the robots in focus here have functioned using an external power sources, but for the future, the plan is to equip them with an embedded energy storage system powered by thin-film lithium batteries. Another future possibility banks upon the robot’s chip-free design, which ensures they are able to thrive across extreme environments, such as strong radioactive or magnetic fields or places with intense radio frequency signals or high electrostatic discharges.

“The robots could be designed for specialty functions and manufactured on demand very quickly,” said Ankur Mehta, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of UCLA’s Laboratory for Embedded Machines and Ubiquitous Robots. “Also, while it’s a very long way away, there could be environments on other planets where explorer robots that are impervious to those scenarios would be very desirable.”

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