These Printed Paper Actuators Are Mesmerizing, Inspiring

These Printed Paper Actuators Are Mesmerizing, Inspiring

One of the oldest materials, paper has found its way into everything from printing and packaging to cleaning and construction.

Now, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are using actuation to turn stationary into cyborgs.

Members of CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute developed a low-cost, reversible mechanism for automating paper. All it takes is a thin layer of conducting thermoplastic (applied with a 3D printer or painted by hand) and an electrical current, and you’re off to the races.

When the thermoplastic heats and expands, it causes the paper to bend or fold; as soon as the current is removed, the paper returns to its original shape.

“We are reinventing this really old material,” Lining Yao, assistant professor in the HCII and director of the Morphing Matter Lab, said in a statement. “Actuation truly turns paper into another medium, one that has both artistic and practical uses.”

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With a set of basic actuators, designed by folks at Yao’s Morphing Matter Lab, the possibilities are endless: structures that turn themselves into balls or cylinders, a lamp shade that changes its shape and brightness; an artificial mimosa plant with leaf petals that open when one is touched.

Students at Zhejiang University in China recently used this technology to create elaborate and beautiful pop-up books, bringing famous artwork to life and highlighting the power of paper.

“Most robots—even those that are made of paper—require an external motor,” according to post-doctoral researcher Guanyun Wang, a CMU Manufacturing Futures Initiative fellow. “Ours does not, which creates new opportunities, not just for robotics, but for interactive art, entertainment, and home appliances.”

The process is not hard; with the right materials (the team used off-the-shelf printing filament) and hardware (a cheap 3D printer), you could DIY your own.

Yao & Co., however, are still refining their method, changing the printing speed or the width of the thermoplastic lines to achieve different effects.

See these magnificent paper actuators for yourself during a traveling exhibit, starting with next month’s Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria and moving to the Bozar Centre for the Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium, before settling for five months at the Hyundai Motorstudio in Beijing, China.

Engineers recently tried using popcorn kernels to animate androids—a cool concept that’s not very sustainable. Paper, on the other hand, is shaping up to be the next big thing in technology. Who wouldn’t want paper that can digitize your doodles? Read more about it here.

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These Printed Paper Actuators Are Mesmerizing, Inspiring

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