We are developing algorithms and systems to create functional robots using printing processes.

We wish to design the body of the robot flat. We wish for the robot to have built-in intelligence, and ability to move in the world. Once designed, the robot is printed and a special control system is used to deliver a 3d functional prototype. In this project we explore how “baking” the robot by uniform heating can be used to self-fold the robot. The secret sauce is in the composition of the body as a three layer structure. The top and bottom layers are structural. The middle layer is the bending control layer—made form material that reacts to heat and shrinks. By cutting gaps in the top and bottom layers we can control the bending angle of the material. For example, if the gap of the top layer is wider, the hinge folds into a bigger fold angle. With this idea we can create a self-folding compiler. The input is the image of the object we’d like to create. Standard techniques are applied to generate a simplified mesh, which is unfolded. The unfolding revels the angles needed to create the 3d structure and these angles are mapped to gaps in the top and bottom layers of the material used to make the robot.

The result is files that can be sent directly to a laser cutter for fabrication. We can fabricate a multitude of robots that can self-fold and then walk, swim, manipulate objects, and self-recycle when the robot’s mission is completed.