Reconfigurable robot merges origami, modular approaches

Reconfigurable robot merges origami, modular approaches
Technology News |
The fields of modular and origami robotics have become increasingly popular in recent years, with both approaches presenting particular benefits, as well as limitations, to the end user.
By Rich Pell

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Researchers from the Swiss National Center of Competence in Robotics (NCCR Robotics) and from the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab at EPFL have combined both approaches with a modular origami robot dubbed Mori.

Mori is what the Swiss researchers present as being the first example of a robot that combines the concepts behind both origami robots and reconfigurable, modular robots.

While Origami robotics uses thin folding structures to produce single robots that can change their shape, modular robotics uses large numbers of individual entities to reconfigure the overall shape and address diverse tasks. Origami robots are compact and light-weight but have functional restrictions related to the size and shape of the sheet and how many folds can be created. In contrast, modular robots are more flexible when it comes to shape and configuration, but they are generally bulky and complex.

Mori merges the benefits of these two approaches and eliminates some of their drawbacks. The presented prototype has the quasi-2D profile of an origami robot and the flexibility of a modular robot. By developing a small and symmetrical coupling mechanism with a rotating pivot that provides actuation, each module can be attached to another in any formation. Once connected, the modules can fold up into any desirable shape.

The individual modules have a triangular structure only 6mm thick and 70mm wide, they weigh 26g. Contained within this slim structure are actuators, sensors and an on-board controller. The only external input required for full functionality is a power source.


Mori has been tested in three scenarios that demonstrate the system’s flexibility. Firstly, the robots are assembled into a reconfigurable surface, which changes its shape according to the user’s input.

Secondly a single module is manoeuvred through a small gap, using rubber rings embedded into the rotating pivot as wheels, and assembled on the other side into a container. Thirdly the robot is coupled with feedback from an external camera, allowing the system to manipulate objects with closed-loop control.

With Mori, the researchers have created the first robotic system that can represent reconfigurable surfaces of any size in three dimensions by using quasi-2D modules. The system’s design is adaptable to whatever task required, be that modulating its shape to repair damage to a structure in space, moulding to a limb weakened after injury in order to provide selective support or reconfiguring user interfaces, such as changing a table’s surface to represent geographical data.

Swiss National Center of Competence in Robotics (NCCR Robotics) – www.nccr-robotics.ch

Reconfigurable Robotics Lab EPFL –  https://rrl.epfl.ch

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