IEEE Spectrum has the story on this crazy cool printable lamp that folds itself up!
Being able to print out a functional robot is a beautiful dream of cheap, accessible robotics for everyone. And right now, it’s impossible.
But we’re making progress fast. A few years ago, we took a look at a project from MIT, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania that was developing soft robots with flexible, printed circuits. Last year, we met a robot that could be printed out flat, fold itself up, and then crawl around with the addition of a motor and battery.
And this year at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), Harvard researchers demonstrated a proof-of-concept lamp that can be printed out, folds itself, and includes both a mechanical switch and a capacitive touch sensor.
The sensors are the big news here: they come straight out of the printer, just like the structure of the lamp itself as well as all of the self-folding elements and most of the wiring.
The mechanical switch is a hinged four-bar linkage that can be repeatedly twisted (hundreds of times) to open or close printed electrical contacts. The touch sensor (which can capacitively sense applied force) can be used to switch the lamp on and off, or to adjust the brightness of the LED.
The thing that comes out of the printer (it’s a rather special sort of printer) is a flat multi-layer sandwich of shape-memory polymers (they take care of the actual folding, triggered by heat), thin layers of copper, layers of paper and foam for structure, and double-sided tape to keep it all stuck together.
Obviously, not every single part of this lamp was printed. Discrete components like the LED were manually soldered to the composite before folding, and the lamp was wired into an Arduino to get the capacitive touch sensor to properly control the LED.