US researchers 3D print origami-inspired folding structures for defense technology
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) awarded Georgia Tech two 2022 Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) awards totaling approximately $14 million.
One of the projects, titled Programming multistable Origami and Kirigami structures via topological design, examines how the principles of the art of paper folding can be used in conjunction with 3D printing to design lightweight, flexible structures capable of changing shape. The goal is to allow structures that can transition between a wide variety of stable geometries to perform specific actions or adapt to constantly changing environmental conditions.
The work is expected to have applications in everything from 3D-printed multifunctional robotics to morphing bridges and bendable radio frequency components such as antennas.
MURIs are awarded through a highly competitive DoD program designed to support teams of researchers conducting work that may one day find application in the defense industry. For the latest round of MURI, the DoD awarded 28 US-based research teams a total of $195 million.
Simon Sponberg, Dunn Family Associate Professor of Physics and Biological Sciences, explains, “MURIs were originally training grants for the DoD to develop the next generation of scientists who would make progress. This funding will allow us to have postdocs and graduate students in all six labs and disciplines working closely together and building community.
Origami for Soft Robotics and Beyond
In the art of origami, the goal is to transform a square, flat sheet of paper into a sculpture using combinations of carefully placed folds. Anyone who loves origami can tell you that the use of glue, cuts and tears is generally frowned upon. However, designs that use cuts are called kirigami.
So how do origami and kirigami fit together with 3D printing? One of the most obvious areas is in soft robotics, where programmable folds and actuation mechanisms are commonly used to create 4D printed robots that change shape over time. Depending on where these folds are placed, a robot can be tricked into rolling, climbing, walking, and grabbing objects.
Multi-stable origami structures have very complex mechanical behaviors, due to the large number of folds and forces that influence each other. As part of the project, researchers will first work to develop comprehensive mathematical models to characterize and program these behaviors.
Next, they hope to design their own advanced 3D printing and manufacturing processes to integrate sensing and actuation into these structures. Finally, the team intends to develop experimental testbeds to evaluate and optimize their origami-based designs.
“This project benefits from Georgia Tech’s ability to develop close and powerful links between advanced engineering technologies and the development of universal, mathematically rigorous physical theories,” said Georgia Tech assistant professor Zeb Rocklin. “We will start from concepts that anyone can get a feel for by looking at or touching a piece of origami and using robotics and multifunctional 3D printing to create complex, flexible and robust dynamic structures that can do things that no one has ever seen before. ”
Beyond simple basic 3D-printed robotic devices, work will scale to soft hybrid pop-up actuators, materials with transformable properties, collapsible bulletproof shields, and temporary structures such as inflatable shelters for military personnel. .
Alongside Rocklin of Georgia Tech are Harvard University professors Katie Betoldi, Jennifer Lewis, L. Mahadevan and Robert Wood, as well as Associate Professor Eleni Katifori of the University of Pennsylvania.
Dive into 3D printed soft robotics
The world of 3D printed soft robotics is an exciting area of research in the academic sphere. Earlier this year, researchers at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China 3D printed a soft graphene oxide robot that can move forward and backward when exposed to moisture. Scientists combined direct ink writing and constrained drying techniques to fabricate the soft robot, and were able to overcome porosity and shrinkage barriers previously seen when 3D printing graphene oxide objects .
Elsewhere, researchers at Tianjin University, China, recently 4D printed a self-propelled soft robot that can move on its own. The tube-shaped robot is made of a material called liquid crystal elastomer and self-assembles when exposed to heat. The device uses cleverly programmed bending patterns to induce tension in its own body, allowing it to flip like a log.
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The featured image shows examples of multifunctional structures inspired by origami. Image via Harvard University.