Origami has once again influenced the design of a new robot. Researchers at the University of Washington have developed microfliers that dynamically change their shape after being dropped from drones, allowing them to glide through the air while collecting environmental data. The microfliers are based on the traditional Miura-ori folding method, which is inspired by the geometric patterns found in leaves.
The microfliers are initially dropped in an unfolded state and then use tiny onboard pressure sensors, timers, and Bluetooth signals to measure altitude and change their shape midair. This enables the robots to descend more stably, similar to the way maple leaves fall. This origami-inspired design allows for highly energy-efficient control over the microfliers’ descent, which was not possible before.
Due to their light weight of about 400 milligrams, the microfliers can already cover the length of a football field when dropped from a height of just 40 meters. The robots are equipped with battery-free, solar-fueled actuators that can be programmed to control their shape and interaction with the surrounding air. Researchers believe that deploying the microfliers at different times will allow for greater areas of distribution, and the folding process only takes 25 milliseconds to initiate, ensuring precise timing.
The team envisions using these microfliers as valuable sensors for environmental and atmospheric surveying. The current models can transmit air temperature and pressure data via Bluetooth signals up to a distance of 60 meters, but researchers believe that their reach and capabilities could be expanded in the future. These origami-inspired robots demonstrate the growing potential of origami principles in various fields, such as engineering and building advancements.
– University of Washington’s Science Robotics Study
– UCLA’s research on flexible “mechanobots”
– MIT’s origami-inspired plate lattice designs for transportation applications