DIY Simple Origami Soft Robots

Duration -  10 min

Difficulty - Beginner

by Layal Barakat - August 20, 2020

by Hyejun Youn  - May 20, 2021

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Making traditional hard robots can be a real challenge for beginners: there are many tools and materials you have to buy to build a working product. Soft robots are typically inexpensive and less time consuming to create. Here, I provide the steps I took to create three origami soft robots/artificial muscles from materials that can be found in your home right now! This is merely a framework that can be adapted to create origami soft robots of different sizes, fold patterns, and materials. Let's get started!

Background
Click on the questions to learn more before you get started.

Inspiration for this project!

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The Main Process
 

Materials

Total cost (to buy all materials above): $24.47*

Approximate cost of one origami bot: $0.23**

*cost may vary due to location and availability of materials.

**cost includes one cardstock sheet, one ziplock bag, one straw, and one glue stick.

Steps

1. Begin by cutting strips of cardstock and folding them accordion style. Here, there are two different fold sizes.

 

2. Then, take a sandwich size ziplock bag and cut off the zip closure. Cut it to size based on the width of your folded strip. Now, each folded strip has a piece of plastic. 

3. It is very important to have an airtight seal for actuation to occur. Use tape to seal all open edges, except one, of one of the halves of the cut ziplock bag.

 

4. Insert one of the folded cardstock pieces. Use the glue gun to seal the area around the straw by putting a ring of glue around the straw and pushing down until it makes contact with the plastic bag. 

5. The plastic straws are for actuation. To actuate, suck on the straw—creating a vacuum—and watch how the shapes change!

 

6. This origami bot provides vertical displacement and can lift small objects that are attached to it. You can test this out using an AA battery or other small weights. The squares to the right are measured in inches.

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                              At rest.                                                   Fully actuated.

Alternative Methods
Other processes that can be used to achieve the above results.
  • Don't have tape? Try using a glue gun to seal open edges. This essentially "welds" the ziplock bag plastic to itself. Be careful not to melt through the plastic and create more holes. Because of this, is more difficult to get an airtight seal with hot glue.

  • You can experiment with a more complicated origami fold. There are many different origami tesselation tutorials on the internet. Here, a herringbone tesselation is used. A tutorial for this fold can be found here.

  • Want to change the inner origami skeleton later? Try keeping the zip closure. Zip until the area around the straw, then use the glue gun to fill in the gaps.

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  • A soldering iron may also work in sealing the plastic, just make sure to be in a well-ventilated area. This method may also be prone to accidental holes and may leave a residue on the soldering iron.

  • Try to fold different kinds of materials if paper or cardstock is unavailable. Cardboard, aluminum foil, and others may have interesting results. Be careful not to rip the ziplock bag when dealing with sharper-edged materials.

  • Pneumatic tubing can be substituted for plastic straws. Instead of actuating with the lungs, a bike pump or other compressor can be used for maximum effect. You can try FlowIO too! Just be careful not to pop the plastic bag.

  • Layering many sheets of copy paper can potentially mimic cardstock. It may be better to attach the papers with glue or another adhesive before folding.

Other Experimentations
What if you tried something else?
  • Use different thicknesses of paper to achieve different behaviors. Tissue paper and cardboard are two ends of a spectrum.

  • Cut the plastic bags and paper/cardstock into non-rectangular shapes? Explore what kinds of actuation can be achieved.

  • Try "drawing" into two layers of plastic with a soldering iron or glue gun? Actuate to see your shape come to life.

  • Try to make a tool with many origami "fingers". For example, grippers are very common within the realm of soft robotics, so exploring relevant origami folds and choosing the number of "fingers" to make is good practice.

  • Try to find the heaviest thing your origami soft robot can lift.

  • Make changing shadow art with origami soft robots. Or incorporate this method into art projects? 

More Resources
Learn more about this topic and get inspired!