SoloPoint Insights

The Age of Robotic Walking… Papers?

When you think of a robot – what is the first thing that jumps into your mind? Most people would respond metal, high technology and numerous moving parts. Few would ever associate robotics with paper. And yet, this medium which has held the written word for centuries now has the potential to do much more.

The small robots greatly resemble moving origami – but their very simplicity is what makes this new advance so remarkable. Typically, creating a robot is an expensive process, mainly due to the materials used. Now, with cheaper and recyclable materials like paper, that barrier can be removed.

Yong-Lai Zhang and Hong-Bo Sun of Jilin University, Changchun, China recently revealed their work, which uses single-atom-thick graphene sheets to create these paper robots.

“Graphene has exhibited a series of enticing physical/chemical properties such as high electrical conductivity, transparency, biocompatibility, mechanical flexibility, strength, and good stability,” said Hong-Bo Sun of Jilin University, Changchun, China, distinguishing graphene and related materials as good choices for the development of “smart, paper-based machines, for instance, smart actuators.”

He added, “We recently found that focused sunlight can reduce GO paper to some extent. Therefore, one side of the GO paper can be fully reduced due to the UV radiation-induced photochemical reactions, and the other side can survive as pristine GO.”

The robots range from very simple moving objects to more advanced models that have tiny little claws that can be used to grip and move objects.

Zhang and Sun aren’t the only ones getting interested in building paper robots. Andrew J. Steckl’s Nanoelectronics Laboratory (NanoLab) at the University of Cincinnati has created a project called the “Paper Laboratory” is using this medium to help their students learn about robotics. The students have a $50 max budget and they get unlimited creative license.

“As cost becomes an increasingly important factor in device production and distribution, low-cost recyclable materials such as paper are bound to play a key role,” according to Jason P. Rolland, senior director of research for technology non-profit Diagnostics for All and Hewlett-Packard R&D engineer Devin A. Mourey. “Despite the prevalence of paper, this field is arguably still in its infancy. If devices are designed using low cost as a first principle, a tremendous global impact is possible – leading simultaneously to both larger market potential for product and higher quality of life in developing nations.”

What does this mean for engineers, particularly engineering students? An entire world of possibilities has opened up thanks to this research. Soon, people will be using other uncommon materials to fashion robots – and other technology!

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