Researchers at the University of Washington have developed small robotic devices that can change their shape mid-air using the principles of origami. These tiny “microfliers” use the Miura-ori fold, a technique invented by Japanese astrophysicist Kōryō Miura, to fold a flat sheet into a smaller area. Dropped by a drone, the devices go from a flat and tumbling state to a folded one, falling straight down to the ground.
The transition from being flat to folded is controlled by methods such as an onboard pressure sensor, an onboard timer, or a Bluetooth signal. Weighing about 400 milligrams, these microfliers can travel approximately 100 yards when dropped from a height of 131 feet. They are equipped with an onboard battery-free actuator, a solar power-harvesting circuit, and a controller to trigger shape changes while in mid-air.
In addition to their folding capabilities, these robots have the potential to carry onboard sensors to gather and analyze environmental data. By surveying temperature, humidity, and other variables during their descent, these microfliers can help researchers monitor climate change and make informed decisions related to various applications, including digital agriculture.
The researchers’ recent findings were published in Science Robotics. According to co-senior author Vikram Iyer, using origami in this context opens up new possibilities for the design of microfliers. The method is highly energy efficient and allows for battery-free control over descent, which was not possible before.
The team behind this project includes Kyle Johnson and Vicente Arroyos, doctoral students; Raul Villanueva, Dennis Yin, and Tilboon Elberier, undergraduate students; Amélie Ferran, a doctoral student; Alberto Aliseda and Sawyer Fuller, mechanical engineering professors; and Shyam Gollakota, a professor in the School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington.
Video demonstrations of folding a paper microflier can be found on YouTube.
- Miura-ori fold: A folding technique developed by Kōryō Miura that allows a flat sheet of paper to be folded into a smaller area.
- Microflier: Small robotic devices that can change shape mid-air during descent.
– University of Washington