Future Micro-robots Could be made like Pop-up BooksA clever new building technique inspired by pop-up books for children could lead to the mass production of teeny tiny robots with, usually, are much too hard to build in large quantities. That means that building a robotic dragonfly can now be done cheaply and easily.
The technique is functionally similar to how they make plywood. Laser cutters burn away a sheets of plastic, metal and paper as needed, cutting out different shapes. Then those layers are stacked and laminated together, so that they are a single, unified whole. The finished product is a hexagonal chunk of plastic an metal and plastic, with an assembly scaffold built-in to assemble the robot.
The Harvard Monolithic Bee pops up within an assembly scaffold. Photos courtesy of Pratheev Sreetharan.
The scaffold is designed to be able to do origami folds, 22 different ones to be precise. It takes the sheets of plastic and metal and folds them into various shapes until, at the end, you have a fully-functional origami robot. For the first demonstration, it is a small robotic flying craft known as the Harvard Monolithic Bee, or Mobee.
The technique is similar to what has been used in printed circuit boards for years, though circuit boards aren’t usually folded into shape. Circuit boards have long relied on sandwiching together layers of plastic and metal to create complex, yet thin, circuits.
Said doctoral candidate Pratheev Sreetharan, the co-developer of the building technique, “This takes what is a craft, an artisanal process, and transforms it for automated mass production.” In other words, it takes what once took painstaking hours to assemble by hand and makes it build itself in moments. A major breakthrough.
The researchers hope to use the small, Aeriel bots to research robotic swarm behaviours. Right now the assembly of the individual bots takes forever, so this could dramatically cut down on the time needed and costs.