It's crawling with origami-inspired, earthworm-like robots!

29 August 2017

Origami-inspired crawling robot | Credit: the University of Illinois

Researchers have applied origami paper-folding principles to construct and actuate mechanisms and machines for potential integration with scalable robots and adaptive structures.

The experts were inspired by a common theme in the rapid movement of soft plants such as the Venus Flytrap and the swimming of uni-flagellated bacteria, both of which use the flexibility of their bodies to quickly snap, which allow fast motion while saving energy.

Assistant professor, Aimy Wissa said, “This paper presents the design of a bio-inspired crawling robot. The robot uses origami building blocks to mimic the gait and metameric properties of earthworms and directional material design to mimic the function of the setae on earthworms that prevents backward slipping.”

The researchers investigated the concept of using the Kresling crease pattern of origami, which is a chiral tower with a polygonal base. This origami tower couples its expansion and contraction to longitudinal and rotational motion, similar to a screw, and they used buckling instabilities to accomplish a large-stroke snapping motion from small inputs.

Origami-inspired crawling robot | Credit: the University of Illinois

Their design utilises a skeleton made from the buckling origami tower as mechanisms to transform motor rotation to fast expansion and contraction of the worm robot, enabling a crawling gait. It can go forward and turn left and right using repeated expansion and contraction. 

As the researchers wrote, “The ability to produce a functional and geometrically-complex 3D mechanical system from a flat sheet introduces exciting opportunities in the field of robotics for remote, autonomously deployable systems or low cost integrated locomotion.”

The experts' mathematical analysis is thought to be the first of its kind to use the idea of virtual folds to analyse panel bending in snapping Kresling-like origami towers. This configuration presents an advantage in energy consumption and makes the open loop locomotion control straight-forward. The design can also be used in manipulations, booms, and active structures.

“The work presented in this paper leverages the team’s expertise in the design of architectured materials and bio-inspired robotics,” Wissa said. “We plan to continue to build on our findings to design, model, and test bio-inspired modular robots capable of multiple modes of locomotion.”

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