If you’re worried about machines following you, you may want to ignore the video above.
Scientists in South Korea are developing a robot that can fly and walk – and switch between the two at great speed. There’s also one that jumps.
It’s all a bit James Bond, but at its heart is the seemingly benign art of origami.
Inspired, they say, by the streamlined movements of ladybugs (also known as ladybird beetles), Sang-Min Baek and colleagues from Seoul National University have constructed an origami design that can immediately unfold and lock in place when outstretched.
While these structures are soft and compliant, they proved sturdy enough in a flying robot to sustain lift and withstand powerful aerodynamic forces when unfolded.
Origami-based robotic designs are not new, but conventional designs tend to treat the spaces between each fold (called facets) as rigid plates, which unfold slowly and require extra mechanisms to retain the outstretched structure.
To develop their new approach, the Korean team was motivated by the ladybug’s ability to unfold its wings from under its hard shell and take flight in milliseconds.
A specialised vein on its wings stores a large amount of kinetic energy when folded so that, when released, the squished wings can immediately expand into a sturdier structure able to withstand rapid flapping.
Baek and colleagues designed origami with facets that are compliant yet firm when unfolded, so their structures are compactly foldable but immediately deployable without the help of other bulky mechanisms.
The structures can lock in place within 116 milliseconds and endure 150 times their own weight, they say.
They built the frame for a glider robot that retained enough stiffness to flap its wings in the air, as well as a jumping robot that released energy when unfolded, allowing it to perform high jumps.
It’s early stages and there is much work to be done. For example, the glider currently is manually controlled using a radio controller. After jumping, an operator commands it to deploy its folded wings around peak height.
But the concept of combining flexibility and firmness is sound, they suggest, and has the potential to advance origami applications in soft and bioinspired robotics.
Nick Carne is the editor of Cosmos Online and editorial manager for The Royal Institution of Australia.
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