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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Origami comes to the aid of automatically fabricating mini robots
Article Type: Mini features From: Industrial Robot: An International Journal, Volume 39, Issue 6
How do you fabricate a robot which is only 2.5 mm by 18 mm and constructed of many layers of carbon fiber, plastics and microelectronics? Try using origami. Researchers at Harvard University are using the origami technology to mass produce robotic insects. Traditionally, origami is used to produce pop-up books that stems from a popular hobby that originated in Asia.
These robotic insects are called Harvard Monolithic Bees or Mobees. They are created from 18 layers of fibre, Kapton (a plastic film), titanium, brass, ceramic, and adhesive sheets which are laminated together. The sheets are then laser cut into the outline.
Next each sheet is stamped in an assembly scaffold (Figure 1). The scaffold performs more than 20 origami assembly folds to create the 3D robotic insect. The researchers, Pratheev Sreetharan and J. Peter Whitney, have taken a craft hobby or artisanal process and transformed it into an automated mass production process.
Previous to the implementation of the origami approach, the team had been fabricating the Mobees by hand. Taking a piece of very fine tungsten wire applying a bit of super glue, using a microscope like an arthroscopic surgeon, finding the right place to mount the wire. In total, the production process includes: locating 24 glue points, making 22 folding joints, applying 52 brass pad glue joints and making 115 scaffold joints.
Now the process is without human error and can employ cured carbon fibre, which is rigid and easy to align, rather than the uncured carbon fibre necessary with manual assembly. One of the researchers describes uncured carbon fibre as like working with “wet tissue paper.” Another benefit of the origami approach has been that the researchers have been able to employ others materials in the Mobee construction such as: polymers, metals, ceramics and composites. The researchers has also been able to tightly integrate sensors, electronic chips and control actuators right into the pop-up Mobee’s body frame.
The resulting Mobee (Figure 2) is produced with precision which is better than can be currently measured and the yield has gone from about 15 percent by manual methods to essentially 100 percent by the origami method. Researchers expect that this larger robots building mini robots method can be applied in a wide range of applications. The Harvard Office of Technology Development has filed for patents on the technology and is working with others to commercialize it. Funding for the work was supported by the US Army Research Laboratory, the National Science Foundation and the Wyss Institute.
Richard BlossAssociate Editor