Dexterous robot conquers art of origami

Will Knight

The flimsy and flexible nature of paper is a big challenge for robots (Image: Devin Balkcom)

A robot that can make delicate paper models using the ancient Japanese art of origami has been developed by a US student.
Origami involves folding and sometimes tearing paper to build three dimensional models of animals, people and other objects. It may be relatively simple for a skilled human to make such paper structures, but origami is a new challenge for robots.
This is because robots are normally required to manipulate rigid materials, not flimsy and flexible paper. Modelling the creation of an origami model is also mathematically and computationally complex.
But Devin Balkcom, a student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, US, designed and built a robot capable of making simple origami objects, such as planes and hats, as part of his research into robot dexterity. The robot holds the paper using a suction cup and creates folds by pushing the paper into slots.

Rabbit ear
"Our primary interest in origami is manipulation," Balkcom writes on his web page. "We are currently working on understanding more complicated origami skills - like reverse folding, squash folding, the rabbit ear, and prayer folding - that require the simultaneous manipulation of multiple non-colinear creases."
Also posted to the website are two videos showing the robot constructing an airplane as well as a hat (Quicktime required).
Huosheng Hua, a robotics researcher at the University of Essex in the UK, says building robots that can manipulate difficult materials will be important if we want them to operate in ordinary human environments. "A five or six year old child can tie their shoe lace, but no robot can do it," he told New Scientist "The material is just too flexible."





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