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Snake-Inspired Robot Uses Kirigami to Move

Kirigami skins make a simple soft actuator crawl

This soft robot is made using kirigami — an ancient Japanese paper craft that relies on cuts, rather than origami folds, to change the properties of a material. As the robot stretches, the kirigami is transformed into a 3D-textured surface, which grips the ground just like snake skin.

June 7, 2018 | Source: Harvard Paulson School, seas.harvard.edu, 21 Feb 2018, Leah Burrows

Who needs legs? With their sleek bodies, snakes can slither up to 14 miles-per-hour, squeeze into tight space, scale trees and swim. How do they do it? It’s all in the scales. As a snake moves, its scales grip the ground and propel the body forward — similar to how crampons help hikers establish footholds in slippery ice. This so-called friction-assisted locomotion is possible because of the shape and positioning of snake scales.

Now, a team of researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has developed a soft robot that uses those same principles of locomotion to crawl without any rigid components. The soft robotic scales are made using kirigami — an ancient Japanese paper craft that relies on cuts, rather than origami folds, to change the properties of a material.  As the robot stretches, the flat kirigami surface is transformed into a 3D-textured surface, which grips the ground just like snake skin.