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Cell origami

February 19, 2013

A couple years back, a team from Harvard and MIT developed a sheet of “programmable matter” that could fold into 3D structures. The hope being that you could one day produce a variety of objects on demand. If you need a hammer, your programmable matter would reconfigure to make one. The concept, coined “Robotic Origami”, was published in the renowned journal PNAS.

At the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) last October, I saw an excellent talk by Dr. Kaori Kuribayashi-Shigetomi from the University of Tokyo about “Cell Origami”. Her work, which was recently published in PLOS One, uses the natural pulling force that cells produce on surfaces where they grow to fold smartly cut and positioned 2D sheets into desired 3D structures. The process, demonstrated in the video below, shows cells grown on top of engineered microplates fixed to a flat surface. To fold the structure, simply detach the microplates from the surface and allow the cells to pull them into a 3D structure. The cells in this case act like a rubber-band. Such 3D structures could be useful for a variety of applications including tissue engineering or 3D assembly at the microscale. By using the natural beats produced by heart cells (cardiomyocytes) to actuate the microplates, she is then able to make a “flapping robot”. The end of the video shows that these 3D structures can be mass produced with 1200 structures folded per cm2.

Sabine Hauert is lecturer at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and co-founder of Robohub, the Robots Podcast and the Autonomous Robots blog... read more

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