In the near future an origami robot could be your surgeon

Surely you have seen origami figures, that traditional Japanese art that attracts so much attention and that, following some folds and creases, transforms a sheet of paper into incredible three-dimensional figures. Well, you should know that a folding robot based on this principle is the latest and most advanced in robotic design.

Several research centers and academic institutions have been working on various types of origami robots with state-of-the-art technology. These are being tested for various purposes, some administer medicines inside the human body, others are in search and rescue missions in disaster areas, there are even humanoid robotic arms.

A robot surgeon

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Artificial Intelligence Computer Science Laboratory developed a robot in 2017 that can fold back on itself thanks to a series of magnets.

The robot, called “Primer”, can take different shapes or be clad with exoskeletons, for example, it can transform from a cube to a small vehicle.

Primer has a motor that allows it to move on land, air or water, and it can pick up objects and move them. Its purpose is to be able to perform different types of surgeries, perhaps dress some wounds or take samples.

According to Professor Daniela Rus, director of the laboratory:

“Imagine swiping the motor like a pill and then swiping all the exoskeletons that will provide the robot with different tools. With that we have a mini-surgeon that can perform procedures on your body without the need for incisions.”

The Robot Primer in its different transformations. Image courtesy of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Artificial Intelligence Computer Science Laboratory, all rights reserved.

A robotic arm

In 2018, researchers at Seoul National University, (South Korea) were also inspired by origami and developed a folding robotic arm, this one assembles itself and is also very rigid.

It was designed using the concept of variable stiffness that makes it possible to change shape by means of a single cable, which increases the possibilities of uses of the structure.

It is lightweight and can be folded completely flat or stiffened and stretched like an umbrella. If attached to a drone, this robotic arm can, for example, pick up an object or even inspect within a narrow space. So they are ideal for inspecting difficult to access terrain.

Robotic arm attached to a drone: First folded, then extended for scanning.

However, until recently, this technology had some limitations, since thin and very flexible materials are required to make the folds and creases. In addition, they must be electrically conductive, for which a new material has arrived that could solve the problem.

A team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has found a formula to create a material that can be used in such a robot. It consists of a combination of platinum and burnt paper ash, resulting in a flexible and light paper-like material.

You can also read: Labor force replaced by robots? this is what the future holds

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