Odds are that if you’ve been to the beach or gone camping or somewhere in between, you are familiar with inflatable products like air mattresses. It’s nothing spectacular to see a rectangle inflate into a thicker, more comfortable rectangle, but what if your air mattress inflated into the shape of a crane?
We’ve seen similar ideas in quadcopters and robots using more mechanical means, but this is method uses air instead. To make this possible, the [Tangible Media Group] out of [MIT’s Media Lab] have developed aeroMorph — a program that allows the user to design inflatable constructs from paper, plastic or fabric with careful placement of a few folding joints.
These designs are exported and imprinted onto the medium by a cartesian coordinate robot using a heat-sealing attachment. Different channels allow the medium to fold in multiple directions depending on where the air is flowing, so this is a bit more complicated than, say, a bouncy castle. That, and it’s not often you see paper folding itself. Check it out!
Robot design traditionally separates the body geometry from the mechanics of the gait, but they both have a profound effect upon one another. What if you could play with both at once, and crank out useful prototypes cheaply using just about any old 3D printer? That’s where Interactive Robogami comes in. It’s a tool from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) that aims to let people design, simulate, and then build simple robots with a “3D print, then fold” approach. The idea behind the system is partly to take advantage of the rapid prototyping afforded by 3D printers, but mainly it’s to change how the design work is done.
To make a robot, the body geometry and limb design are all done and simulated in the Robogami tool, where different combinations can have a wild effect on locomotion. Once a design is chosen, the end result is a 3D printable flat pack which is then assembled into the final form with a power supply, Arduino, and servo motors.
A white paper is available online and a demonstration video is embedded below. It’s debatable whether these devices on their own qualify as “robots” since they have no sensors, but as a tool to quickly prototype robot body geometries and gaits it’s an excitingly clever idea.
At some point, most of us have learned a little of the ancient art of origami. It’s a fascinating art form, and being able to create a recognizable model by simply folding paper in the right order can be hugely satisfying. Most of us move on to other pursuits once we master the classic crane model, but the mathematics behind origami can lead some practitioners past the pure art to more practical structures, like this folding ballistic barrier for law enforcement use.
The fifty-pound Kevlar and aluminum structure comes from Brigham Young University’s College of Mechanical Engineering, specifically from the Compliant Mechanisms Research program. Compliant mechanisms move by bending or deflecting rather than joints between discrete parts, and this ballistic shield is a great example. The mechanism is based on the Yoshimura crease pattern, which can be quickly modeled with a piece of paper. Scaling that up to a full-sized structure, light enough to be fielded but strong enough to stop a .44 Magnum round, was no mean feat. But as the video below shows, the prototype has a lot of potential.
Origami cranes are cool, but do you know what’s cooler? Origami cranes dancing to the beat. That’s the challenge [Basami Sentaku] took on when he created Dancing Paper (YouTube link). You might remember [Basami] from his 8 bit harmonica hack. In Dancing Paper, paper cranes seem to dance all on their own – even performing some crazy spinning moves. Of course, the “magic” is due to some carefully written code, and magnets, lots of magnets.
Using magnets to move objects from below isn’t a new concept. Many of us have seen the “ice skating pond” Christmas decoration which uses the same effect. Unlike the skating pond,Dancing Paper has moving parts (other than the cranes themselves). Under the plastic surface are a series of individually controlled electromagnets. Each of the supporting dancers has a line of four magnets, while the featured dancer in the center has a 5×5 matrix. The 41 electromagnets were wound around bolts with the help of a Tamiya motor and gearbox.
The actual dance moves are controlled by C code which appears to be running on an Atmel microcontroller. Of course a microcontroller wouldn’t be able to drive those big coils, so some beefy TO-220 case transistors were employed to switch the loads. The cranes themselves needed a bit of modification as well. Thin pieces of wire travel from the neodymium magnets on their feet up to the body of the crane. The wire provides just enough support to keep the paper from collapsing, while still being flexible enough to boogie down.
Click past the break to see Dancing Paper in action!
MIT engineers have developed a technique to address the challenges involved in manufacturing robots at a cheap and accessible level. Like a plant folding out its petals, a protein folding into shape, or an insect unveiling its wings, this autonomous origami design demonstrated the ability for a mechanical creature to assemble itself and walk away. The technique opens up the possibility of unleashing swarms of flat robots into hard to reach places. Once on site, the robots mobilize from the ground up.
The team behind the project used flexible print circuit boards made out of paper and polystyrene, which is a synthetic aromatic polymer typically found in the commercially sold children’s toy Shrinky Dinks™. Each hinge had embedded circuits that were mechanically programmed to fold at certain angles. Heat was applied to the composite structure triggering the folding process. After about four minutes, the hinges would cool allowing the polystyrene to harden. Some issues did arise though during the initial design phase due to the amount of electrical current running the robots, which was ten times that of a regular light bulb. This caused the original prototypes to burn up before the construction operation was completed.
In the long-term, Core Faculty Member [Robert] would like to have a facility that would provide everyday robotic assistance to anyone in the surrounding community. This place would be accessible to everyone in the neighborhood helping to solve whatever problems might arise, which sounds awfully like a hackerspace to us. Whether the person required a device to detect gas leaks or a porch sweeping robot, the facility would be there to aid the members living nearby.
A video of [Robert] and [Sam] describing the project comes up after the break:
Researchers at MIT have come up with this slick demo of, what they call, programmable matter. This flat sheet covered in tiny foil actuators can be programmed to fold into specific shapes. Shown in the video above is a boat and an airplane. Using the concepts set down by origami through the years, they can divide the sheet into triangles in specific arrangements to make certain shapes possible. This one is fairly simple, but judging by some of the insane origami we’ve seen around, this could get pretty cool.