Paper Robots: Powered by Air Puffs and Funded by DARPA

Paper Robots: Powered by Air Puffs and Funded by DARPA

Paper Robots: Powered by Air Puffs and Funded by DARPA

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Feb. 10 2012 3:48 PM

Paper Robots: Powered by Air Puffs and Funded by DARPA

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(An oragami bird laid among a sea of flowers and candles left by wellwishers at the entrance to the Japanese embassy after the Fukushima disaster, March 15 2011 in Berlin, Germany.)

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Next time you see a crumpled wad of paper, pay it some respect; it may have been sent here to destroy you.

In another potentially terrifying project funded by DARPA, scientists have created robots made only of paper and silicone rubber and powered by nothing more than puffs of air. These origami automatons, like their traditional Japanese art counterparts, can exhibit some amazing characteristics when folded and glued in just the right way. They can twist, grip, and even lift weights several times their own mass.

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Why the need for a paper C-3PO? Conventional electronic robots, crafted from hard materials, are limited by their rigidity. Origami-bots can bend, stretch, shrink, and grow to navigate successfully in environments their inflexible cousins cannot. Drawing from nature, with models inspired by insects, birds, snakes, fish, and even dogs, engineers are building robots that may someday act as spies or even weapons. Paper cuts may be just the beginning.

Ben Johnson is the producer of Marketplace Tech from American Public Media.