Researchers Take Inspiration from Origami to Build Flexible Microbots
Denrie Caila Perez posted on August 12, 2020 |
Using the principles of origami, microbots can form various shapes according to certain tasks.
Yi Zhu, graduate student research assistant for civil and environmental engineering, tests the origami microbot. Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan.
Yi Zhu, graduate student research assistant for civil and environmental engineering, tests the origami microbot. Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan.

A group of researchers is taking inspiration from the East for their latest work on microrobots. A team from the University of Michigan has discovered that the principles of origami, the ancient Japanese art of folding paper, enables microbots to extend their existing capabilities. The result is a new way to design, fabricate and actuate these micro machines. According to Evgueni Filipov, an assistant professor in the civil and environmental engineering department, these microbots are able to take various forms and shapes, complete a task, and then reconfigure into another shape for a new task.

Current microbots are still restricted to certain movements, which subsequently limits their ability to accomplish tasks as well. By applying the principles of origami, microbots are able to widen their range of motion by folding at large angles—meaning they can form more complex shapes. The microbots designed by the University of Michigan can fold as far as 90 degrees or more and can complete a range of motion up to 80 times per second.

The downside of these devices is that they still need to be controlled using an attached tether. According to the researchers, they intend to include an onboard battery as well as a microcontroller that sends an electric current into the system.

“When a current passes through the gold layer, it creates heat, and we use heat to control the motions of the microbot,” said Filipov. “We drive the initial fold by heating the system, then we unfold by letting it cool down. To get something to fold and stay folded, we overheat the system. When we overheat, we can program the fold—change where it comes to rest.”

The study was published in Advanced Functional Materials. Other members of the team include Kenn Oldham, a University of Michigan professor of mechanical engineering, Ph.D. student Yi Zhu, and graduate research assistant Mayur Birla.


For more information, you can read the complete study here.


For more news and stories, check out these multifunctional eight-legged soft microbots here.


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