KSC Biomimicry - Cardboard Robots: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Oct 07, 2009
Scientist: Dr. Ron Fearing

KSC Biomimicry - Cardboard Robots

KSC Biomimicry - Cardboard Robots
Robots may be high-tech, but the materials used to make them can be quite ordinary.


music; ambience mini-robot in operation

RF: “Okay. What we’ve got here is a six-legged robot. This robot weighs about 15 grams. It’s all made of laser cut cardboard.”

Robots are high tech, and you’d think the materials used to construct them would be, too. But not necessarily. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Ron Fearing is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, at the University of California in Berkeley. He builds tiny, nimble robots, using decidedly low-tech materials.

RF: “Basically, we start with flat sheets of material, things like carbon fiber or cardboard or plastic, and we cut them with a laser to make very complicated machines. By putting in very precise cuts, we can get the cardboard to bend exactly the way we want it to, and each of these bends is like a joint in an animal leg, for example. You could imagine taking origami but putting motors on it, and then, you’ll end up with folding machines which can walk and run.”

For locomotion, Ron Fearing also uses household materials.

RF: “Maybe in the not too distant future, we’d have something that’s like a muscle. Currently, we don’t have any real muscle-like motors, so we use motors out of battery-powered toys. We’ve also used some materials that change size when they heat up and other materials which change size when we apply a voltage across them. The fastest motors that we use are just little motors out of toys.”

Ron’s tiny cardboard robots are made to have the advantages of small animals, scampering over terrain which might stymie a larger, more traditionally constructed robot.

Ron Fearing is one of the participants in the Kids’ Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for third to sixth graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. Check out KidScienceChallenge.com for templates to build your very own cardboard-robots. You’ve been listening to Pulse of the Planet. I’m Jim Metzner.