While replaced in some cases by computer screens, paper remains an ubiquitous material in our modern world. Inexpensive, biodegradable, and recyclable, this material does its job extremely well. However, that didn’t stop researchers from Carnegie Melon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, however, from coming up with a new use for this medium — as an actuator that flexes on command to form interactive shapes.
To prepare paper for auto-folding, a 3D printer lays down a continuous layer of conductive thermoplastic. From there, the assembly is heated and bent, forming the paper’s default shape. Once this is set up, electricity can then be applied to the thermoplastic layer, heating it up and straightening the paper.
The new paper/thermoplastic contraption can be decorative, as seen in interactive books that they’ve created, or even as shape-changing artificial leaves. More complex configurations have been used to make a robotic gripper with multiple paper fingers, and several sections of paper have even been configured into worm-like walking robot.
Be sure to check out the demo of this technology in the first video below, or see the second one for a presentation that gives more details of the actuator’s construction.