Self-folding electronics for advanced robotics

Posted Sep 16, 2017 by Tim Sandle
As robotics advances the demand for more versatile, flexible and adaptable robots follows. This aim is hampered by often all-too-brittle electronics. In a breakthrough, researchers have designed flexible, 3D printable electronic components.
RoboBee is a tiny robot capable of tethered flight  developed by a research robotics team at Harvard...
RoboBee is a tiny robot capable of tethered flight, developed by a research robotics team at Harvard University.
Harvard University
More advanced robotics require components that can enable more sophisticated applications. To date, producing the required components on a large scale has proved to be a major challenge. Now technologists report that they have come up with a way to meet this need through printing electronics that are capable of folding themselves into almost any desired shape.
The breakthrough has been profiled by the American Chemical Society and the outcome will be of interest to technology companies and robot developers. The new method involves constructing flat electronics that can fold once they have printed. By creating an initial flat structure, this means the production process can be accelerated. The new idea comes from Wojciech Matusik and Subramanian Sundaram (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and it is based on formulating a new type of ink that contains acrylate monomers and oligomers. The ink can be 'cured' with ultraviolet light.
The ultraviolet light process leads to energy being stored in specific regions of the printed part in the form of residual stress, which occurs during the printing process. Once the flat device is printed and removed from the printer platform, physical action (swelling forces) cause the structure to fold itself into a predetermined shape without additional stimulus. The scientists indicate that the development will have many applications for robotics and human-machine interfaces. More details of the process are shown in the following video:
The new approach for printing electronics has been published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. The research paper is simply called "3D-Printed Self-Folding Electronics."
In related news, a new type of robot has been developed for endoscopy. Endoscopy is not the most pleasant of procedures. To make the process faster and less discomforting for the patient, medical technologists have devised a smaller, smarter, softer robotic arm.