Origami has been used for years to create interesting shapes and objects from simple designs. The Reconfigurable Robotics Lab (RRL) from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland is using this concept for Mori, a modular origami robot that can fold thin structures to produce single robots that can change its shape.
Traditional origami robots are compact and lightweight but are limited in how many folds can be created as well as to their size and shape. Modular robots, on the other hand, are more flexible in shape and configuration but are generally bulky and complex.
Mori bridges the gap with an origami robot that is modular, merging the benefits of both approaches and eliminating some of the drawbacks, RRL researchers say. The prototype robot has a quasi-2D profile of an origami robot and the flexibility of a modular robot. A small, symmetrical coupling mechanism with a rotating pivot provides actuation and each module can be attached to another in any formation. Once connected, the modules can fold into any shape.
The robot is just 6 mm thick and 70 mm wide and contains actuators, sensors and an on-board controller. The only external input required for full functionality is a power source.
Researchers tested the robot in three ways to demonstrate the machine’s flexibility. First the robots were assembled into a reconfigurable surface which changes shape according to the user. Second, a single module is maneuvered through a small gap using rubber rings embedded into the rotating pivot as wheels. Lastly, the robot was coupled with feedback from an external camera, allowing the system to manipulate objects with closed-loop control.
The team published the full research on Mori in the journal IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics.