These origami-inspired robots could be heading for space

When it comes to the future of robotic technology, it seems origami might be the future. Two new origami-inspired robots have been revealed today, by two separate US universities.

Named Twister and Primer, both bots can perform a variety of tasks and their creators can see them heading to space one day.

Twister, developed by scientists at Case Western University in Ohio, and may one day be used on an assembly line, in surgery or even outer space. Its design was inspired by an origami twisted tower originally created by Japanese artist Mihoko Tachibana.

“Among the possibilities for this robot are fragile-object manipulation and direct human-robot interaction, because these robots are soft and safe,” said Kiju Lee, who. Designed Twister. 

“TWISTER is very different from rigid body robots,” she said. The machine is built from multiple layers of polygons that come together to form a tube shape. Lee imagines the robot could be used in operating lines alongside people, in surgery or in space. 

“To put anything into space, volume and weight are critical, because of the cost of rocket transport,” Lee said. “This robot is fully collapsible and, compared to a rigid arm, light and compact.”

The shape-shifting ‘Primer’

Another origami-inspired robot revealed today is named “Primer”. Its creators, the team at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), call the machine a ‘superhero’ robot. 

Primer is a much smaller robot than Twister, and has an origami-inspired exoskeleton that can be controlled using magnets, allowing it to change its shape from flat sheets of plastic.

It changes its outfits based on the tasks it is undertaking. These range from walking, floating, gliding and using wheels. Each has its own advantages. 

mit-robot-primer“Wheel-bot” has wheels meaning it can move twice as fast as “Walk-bot”. “Boat-bot” can float on water and carry nearly twice its own weight. “Glider-bot” can soar across longer distances. 

“If we want robots to help us do things, it’s not very efficient to have a different one for each task,” says Daniela Rus, CSAIL director and principal investigator on the project. “With this metamorphosis-inspired approach, we can extend the capabilities of a single robot by giving it different ‘accessories’ to use in different situations.”

 The designers say the flexibility and light weight of the Primer robot mean it would be perfect in space.

“Imagine future applications for space exploration, where you could send a single robot with a stack of exoskeletons to Mars,” says postdoc Shuguang Li, one of the co-authors of the study. “The robot could then perform different tasks by wearing different ‘outfits.”


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