Drones Get Origami-Inspired Self-Folding Grippers

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The new “Self-Folding Origami Gripper” (SOG) was recently revealed by Japan’s Shibaura Institute of Technology. This self-folding gripper is meant to upgrade drones by adding smart grasping capabilities that are inspired by origami – the art of folding paper.

The recent rise in drone use across many different sectors comes with a rise in demand for drones capable of grasping and manipulating objects from a distance. However, achieving this has proved challenging due to the weight limitations of lightweight quadcopters (which are the most popular low-cost drones) that can compromise their flight stability.

The research team, led by Associate Professor Hiroki Shigemune, developed the self-folding paper device that is light enough to not cause these issues.

According to Interesting Engineering, the SOG is based around a “bistable” structure, a clever origami configuration that can exist in two stable conformations (similar to a snap bracelet).

The researchers created a base that transitions from a “mountain” shape to a “valley” shape when force is applied to its center. The edges of the base have cylindrical “fingers” that can clutch and hold objects as the SOG “closes up.”  The structure retains either of its two stable forms until enough force is applied.

Despite its simple appearance and mere weight of 5 grams, the SOG has a surprisingly powerful grasping force and can securely hold objects of up to 130 grams.

Another major advantage of the SOG is its eco-friendliness – “The developed SOG is made entirely of paper, a biodegradable material. When it falls to the ground due to an accident or deterioration it simply returns to the soil and does not harm the lives, including humans and the environment, in any way,” explained the researchers.

This green design makes this invention extra relevant for agricultural and land surveying applications where drones could be employed for harvesting and sample collection.

This technology is made possible due to a fabrication technique Dr. Shigemune and his colleagues have been refining for nearly a decade. They utilize a cutter machine and a regular inkjet printer to pre-cut and apply wet ink to a paper sheet in a predefined pattern, calibrating the reactions between the ink and paper to allow the sheet to fold itself from flat into the desired origami structure. This low-cost yet highly precise manufacturing method simplifies the production process and eliminates the need for additional materials that are not environmentally friendly.

Dr. Shigemune expressed his hope that “the SOG proposed in our paper will be the basis for future smart origami devices to make quadcopters multifunctional.”