Devin Balkcom, a student in Carnegie Mellon Universitys doctoral program in robotics, was looking for a challenge when he decided to develop the worlds first origami-folding robot as the subject of his thesis. Origami, the ancient Japanese art of paper sculpture, looks deceptively simple at first glance.
"Its something we humans can do well, but we dont understand the mechanical details," said Balkcom. "Because a five-year-old child can learn to fold origami, we assume that it is a simple process, but the movements it requires are quite complex."
Balkcoms thesis project uses kinematics, the study of mechanisms, to determine how folding motions are made and how paper can be treated as both a flexible and a rigid material. Because robots are so often used for industrial and manufacturing purposes, they are engineered to work with rigid materials, Balkcom said. Paper presents a significant problem because it is flexible.
Anne Watzman | EurekAlert!
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