The Japanese art of paper folding is a difficult one to master, involving taking a 2D sheet of paper and transforming it into 3D shapes. For most of us, three folds are the maximum number we normally handle ─ usually only done when we have to send a letter in the mail. Roboticists from Seoul National University, on the other hand, have taken that art form and have adapted it for a new type of deformable wheel that can transition its radius depending on the obstacle. The wheels themselves use the ‘Magic Ball’ design that uses a series of specific folds to create a sphere structure.
A set of actuators can expand the wheel to its full diameter for traversing large objects and difficult terrain and retract them to a smaller diameter for moving under objects and small spaces. A series of sensors outside the wheels detect the terrain and then adjust the wheel diameter accordingly making the design both agile and strong. So much so that it’s designed to move quickly while carrying a payload. If the robot is carrying too much weight, it will deflate the wheels until it can produce enough torque to move efficiently.
The roboticists believe that their design could one day be used as a planetary rover for space exploration on the cheap as it can fold down and therefore take up less valuable payload space on rockets. I saw that coming… thanks “UCHUU KYOUDAI” space rover arc!