Origami robot

Most of us have experimented with origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, at least once in our lives. Origami contradicts our instinctive assumption that there is something limiting about a simple piece of paper. With the right folds, one can transform that simple piece of paper into a complex three-dimensional object.

A team of engineers from Harvard’s Wyss Institute and MIT have partnered together and taken this idea of transformation and applied it to a practical use. Armed with their knowledge of paper folding and Shrinky Dinks™, a heat-shrinking plastic (typical sold as a child’s toy), they designed a flat robot that will fold itself up, and skitter away.

How does it work? A small battery is put into its pack, next to the motor, at the center of the flat robot.  This action heats up the circuits inlaid into of the paper/Shrinky Dink™ body of the robot. Because of this heat, the places where the circuits have been placed begin to fold and soon create the robot’s final shape. The entire folding process takes four minutes. The attached motor and battery then enable the robot to walk away.

Robot progression

The robot’s different folding stages / Las diferentes etapas de plegado del robot

A flat, self-assembling robot has the potential, for example, to save space in transportation, and to be built less expensively.  It’s one small but exciting step in an innovative direction into the a world of self-assembling and ‘smart’ objects. Such is the potential of inventive design.


Harvard Wyss Institute  | Press Release