A team from Arizona State University and Zeijiang University are looking to transform robotics by using curved origami to provide "tunable flexibility" without excessive complexity.
"The incorporation of curved origami structures into robotic design provides a remarkable possibility in tunable flexibility, or stiffness, as its complementary concept," explains Professor Hanqing Jiang of the research. High flexibility, or low stiffness, is comparable to the soft landing navigated by a cat. Low flexibility, or high stiffness, is similar to executing of a hard jump in a pair of stiff boots.
"Curved origami can add both strength and catlike flexibility to robotic actions. Similar to switching between a sporty-car mode to a comfortable-ride mode, these curved origami structures will simultaneously offer a capability to on-demand switch between soft and hard modes depending on how the robots interact with the environment."
The approach works by combining the folding energy at the creases of the origami structure with the bending of the panel from which it is made, with tuning possible by switching among multiple curved creases in between two points. A test platform developed by the team, a pneumatic swimming robot, proved the concept by switching between nine different movement types, including linear and rotational movements at different speeds, by adjusting which creases are used.
The team has also indicated it is looking at using the same approach in fields outside of robotics, including automotive, aerospace, biomedical, and electromagnetics.
The team's work has been published under open-access terms in the journal Science Advances.