A $100 Origami Robot That Folds Itself Up and Walks Away

A self-assembling robot from researchers at Harvard and MIT.
A self-assembling robot from researchers at Harvard and MIT.
Photo: Harvard’s Wyss Institute

I have a thing for low-tech robots, especially when they’re made from everyday stuff. The body of this new little robot bug from MIT and Harvard, described last week in the latest issue of Science, is made from a five-layer sandwich of copper traces, paper, and shape-memory polymer — the stuff you know as Shrinky Dinks. With batteries, motors, and microprocessor, it uses about $100 worth of materials. And when you plug in the battery, it folds itself into shape and scurries away.

The origami robot is a conglomeration of earlier work at MIT, Harvard, and elsewhere. Its laser-cut composite body is reminiscent of Dash, the robot bug from Berkeley. The heat-activated self-folding polymer sheets have been studied at North Carolina State University. The origami structure — which opens up the possibility of multiple configurations, customized for on-the-go robotic needs — is based on research by MIT’s Erik Demaine and Daniela Rus, part of the team that wrote about the current robobug in this month’s Science.

But what’s particularly exciting is the fact that the building techniques and materials to make a self-folding robot are probably within reach of the average DIY fan, with or without access to a laser cutter. Watch Harvard’s Rob Wood talk about the genesis of the self-folding origami robot, and check out more videos at The Creator’s Project.

YouTube player
Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Kathy's latest books for Maker Media include Fabric and Fiber Inventions, Musical Inventions, and Edible Inventions. She is also the author of Paper Inventions, Making Simple Robots, and other books full of STEAM activities for kids and other beginners. When she's not busy writing, Kathy presents workshops for students and educators at schools, museums, libraries, and makerspaces throughout the Northeast. Visit her at Crafts for Learning.

View more articles by Kathy Ceceri


Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 - Mare Island, CA

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).