Printable Programmable Machines: Origami Inspired Fabrication of 3D Systems


Robotic systems traditionally require significant time, money, and highly specialized fabrication and assembly processes. This technology, called printable robots, provides an alternative to traditional robot design and fabrication. The method systematizes the development of 3D robots using inexpensive, fast, and convenient 2D fabrication processes.

Problem Addressed

To date, there is no single end-to-end process which begins with a user specifying a desired task and ends with a fully functional robot able to perform that task. The Inventors have created a method for fabricating “printable” robots that are inexpensive to operate and require minimal technical knowledge by the user to create. In this implementation, 2D components are produced via printers, laser cutters, etc. and 3D robots are assembled through origami-like folding of these components. This printable method streamlines the design and permits the use of cheap and easy-to-operate tools, enabling the rapid and low-cost fabrication of robots. The general process links specifications to prototypes, without requiring in-depth technical knowledge from user.


This method allows for the creation or reuse of designs optimized for specific tasks. This extensible database that can be updated as users design and fabricate new robots. The resulting customized design provides the blueprints for fabrication: a folding pattern and a corresponding circuit design for each component, based on the robot’s desired properties and physical characteristics.

A modeling engine is associated with each component in the database. This engine selects the approximate desired parameters that match the user specification, for example, to create an insect robot with 6 legs, capable of carrying a radon sensor and covering a 200 m2 space within 24 hours. The design is instantiated with the parameters from the modeling engine, and the fabrication process begins. The circuit mask is printed on a flat sheet with a copper tape overlay, using a solid-ink printer, and is etched with ferric chloride. The process continues with the pick-and-place assembly of circuit components that cannot be incorporated in the printing process. The folding pattern is printed on the 2D sheet, after which the 3D robot is folded and the necessary actuators are added for function.


  • Extensible database can be updated as users design and fabricate new robots
  • Low-cost, simple and fast fabrication (prototypes fabricated in under 4 hours)
  • Fabrication does not require the user to have detailed technical knowledge