What would you use self-folding origami for?

Harvard's Robert Wood and colleagues created this self-folding origami: it's made out of paper edged with actuators that can be programmed to automatically (and spookily) fold the sheet into simple origami forms. They propose that this might be used to create paper cups that resize themselves depending on the amount beverage you want to put in them, but I'm betting we can come up with cooler uses than that -- use the comments and do your damnedest!

Programmable matter by folding (via /.)


  1. Bar tricks for people too drunk to execute them without assistance?

    “A martini, 3 double Dead Nazis and a Corona yet he can still execute that dollar bill joke like he was as sober as a priest!”

  2. Wouldn’t be made of paper but how about a solar pannel roof on a house that could bend and shape itself to always face the most sunlight and then reshape itself to repel water when it rained.

    Or we could take this technology and combine it with the flexable flat screen technology and camera with some facial recognition software and create a TV that always bent in a direction to give you the best view possible of the screen.

  3. Teaching origami. Easier to learn without hands in the way. Especially if you can “pause” it.

  4. if it could fold itself into some sort of tool which could be operated remotely, it would be good for slipping into tight places while flat and then folding itself into something useful once inside.

    being able to slip it under a door would likely be useful for criminals.. or, I suppose, investigators.

  5. Network a slew of them and have they dance together like a lo(lo)-res version of MacLeod’s smartmatter clothing.

  6. Make big ones, as wide as the road (smaller ones for the pavement) and instead of watching police on Police, Camera, Action throw spike strips down, we could watch the remotely operated section of the road curl up enveloping the vehicle with bad ass dudes inside. “Look, they’re using the VCT” (Venus Crook Trap) Dad would shout at the screen excitedly.

  7. How about … a restaurant chopstick wrapper that folds itself into a chopstick stand? :)

  8. Books that turn their own pages and stay open at the page you’re reading, so you don’t have to weigh it down when you’re, say, reading during breakfast.

    Large numbers of these items could perhaps exert a lot of force. Slip them into a slot and pry two things apart.

  9. A present that unwraps itself and folds itself into a robot – preferably one that then opens the box that the present was in, presents you with the present, and then closes and rewraps around the box.

  10. 1) A tent that pitches and strikes itself.

    2) A mobile trash can that seeks and devours garbage.

    3) A bed that makes itself.

    4) A smart kite that could stay aloft for extended periods.

    5) Self trimming boat sails.

  11. Don’t know whether to be impressed or disappointed that no one wants a self-rolling spliff…

  12. A paper airplane with controllable surfaces

    papercraft that assembles itself and auto-glues

    Umbrellas that fold up *really small* when not in use

    parachutes that turn into rigid airfoils

    business card that becomes an animated character

    clothing that helps the wearer move around and look good

    more realistic ‘talking head’ projection screens

    self-making bed linens

    solar sails that reconfigure to parachutes for atmospheric entry

  13. Rather use it for unfolding items-pack the parts of a huge solar mirror into a small canister, launch it and when it reaches the correct place it unfolds to create a solar power beam for powering a space station.
    Or packaging from a take-out place that becomes a plate.

  14. This could be used to create a parachute that morphs into a glider.

    Also, there could be an insectoid surveillance robot that unfolds, slips into a tight space, then refolds.

    Come to think of it, self-folding programmable paper could do anything that the flying carpet from Aladdin could do. Except, of course, fly.

  15. Building a ship in a bottle would be a lot easier when the ships could build themselves.

    Seems like something IKEA would get behind in an effort to make even more efficient packaging. Lamp shades could be flat in packaging and then open into shadeness when freed.

  16. Make it out of reflective material and have it fold out over your deck on a hot day or over greenhouses at night.
    Put it in maps so it’s no longer a struggle to refold them.
    Make reusable, resizable packaging. I think ebay addicts could get great use out of that.
    Make the most interesting window blinds.
    Give shape to paperthin keyboards.
    Revolutionize pop-up books.
    And, as always, there are infinite possibilities for artistic expression here.

  17. Robotic Platelets

    Structures that can fit into an ordinary envelope and that will unfold and combine into large unmanageable structures once they get into a country’s postal system to block flow and cause chaos.

  18. Venus Fly-trap bio-Reactor robots that lie flat, exposing a surface attractive to insects and then fold up to digest and convert them to power.

  19. Perfect for corporate espionage – you mail a contract letter to your enemy, at night it folds itself into a little pterodactyl, flies around the office, takes pictures, probes USB ports looking for interesting data, xmits everything back via wimax or the victims own network, then flies itself into the shredder.

    NSA, please send my royalty check posthaste.

  20. I was thinking the TARDIS should fold up and fit in a pocket, that way it would always be easy to get back to.

  21. Folding this into a cup is thinking way too small. Make the sheets bigger and use them to create a self constructing geodesic dome. Ol Bucky Fuller would be proud.

  22. Multifunctional transforming furniture: buy one or more generic modules (made of plastic/wood, not paper), temporarily connect them to a power source and choose a configuration (cabinets, wardrobes, tables, chairs, tatami mats, bed, etc.).

  23. I have only boring nerd suggestions, but I can imagine a number of things based on exploiting hybrid origami tessellation geometries like that employed in some Hoberman structure designs.

    For instance, one could make a self-deploying solar array based on flex-cells that would have built-in solar tracking ability based on flexing their form. Similarly, self-deploying shelter pavilions with the ability to adjust their spans and open and close their sides. Some could even be given self-mobility in caterpillar fashion or by having folded pedestal legs allowing them to walk in the manner of hexapod robots.

    This could be a particularly useful capability for dust shelters for other robots on Mars, the structures featuring integral solar arrays, laminate flat-cell batteries, inductive charging surfaces, WiFi nodes, and underside organic LED lighting panels. These could self-deploy from ‘rough lander’ packages and walk on their own to a tele-robotic base site to combine with others into large shelters able to close and open various access portals as needed. The entire complex could reconfigure itself in response to the Martian seasons.

    A somewhat similar concept of robotic space frames called Trigon was proposed by architect Scott Howe some years ago. This was based on interlocking panel elements rather than struts and nodes with the modular automata elements traversing over each other as they formed different structures. See;


  24. Previous posts about folding maps, setting up tents, wrapping packages and revolutionizing pop-up books are hysterical, and show how unlikely that this invention will materialize. The idea of a two-dimensional object turning itself into 3 dimensional leads to the next real invention: the 3rd dimension turning itself into the 4th dimension!

  25. they should make it into fabric and sell it by the yard so clothing can be made out of it….no more time wasted folding laundry for me:)…and you could just throw your clothes in your suitcase and tell them to pack themselves!!

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