Manufacturing Bits: Aug. 12

Origami robots, entangled ions, printed musical instruments.

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Origami Robots
It may sound like something out of the movie Transformers, but MIT and Harvard have created origami robots that be reconfigured using timed sequencing.

The robots were built from laser-cut parts using five layers of materials. A layer of etched copper is embedded between two structural layers of paper, with outer layers made of a polymer that folds when heated, according to the schools. A microprocessor is attached to the surface along with small motors.

“This is the first time where they’ve self-folded such a complicated robotic structure,” says Ronald Fearing, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California at Berkeley, who commented on the development on the MIT site. “Because they build it with the electronics on first, you can now choose which folds occur when. If you don’t have the electronics, then you’re limited to patterns where you heat up the whole thing and everything folds at once. So being able to do the timed sequence is a nice capability.”

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Research at Harvard, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Dancing Ions
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a tunable quantum simulator that can handle enormously complex modeling, and which might be used inside of quantum computers in the future.

NIST says researchers coaxed beryllium ions in separate zones into an entangled state by manipulating their electric interactions. The agency claims this is a breakthrough. It also says that it now has enough granularity in its microfabricated trap technology to be able to simulate the behavior of complex quantum materials.

“Even though the ions are confined apart from one another, we can now entangle them,” NIST physicist Andrew Wilson said on the NIST site. “To do useful simulations we’ll need versatile traps with more than two ions, and making traps using the same technology used to make computer chips gives us this capability.”

Physicist Andrew Wilson in a NIST quantum information laboratory. NIST researchers have demonstrated fine control of two ions confined in separate zones of an electric-field trap, which is chilled to low temperatures in the silver chamber behind Wilson. The techniques will be useful in simulating complex quantum systems such as high-temperature superconductors.

Physicist Andrew Wilson in a NIST quantum information laboratory. NIST researchers have demonstrated fine control of two ions confined in separate zones of an electric-field trap, which is chilled to low temperatures in the silver chamber behind Wilson. The techniques will be useful in simulating complex quantum systems such as high-temperature superconductors. Source: NIST

Printed Sound
Sweden’s Lund Unversity has printed a saxophone using a 3D printer.

The sax was printed in nylon from 41 components, according to Professor Olaf Diegel, about one-fourth the weight of a metal instrument.

Printed saxophone. Source: Lund University

Printed saxophone. Source: Lund University

“I first designed the saxophone in 3D CAD software,” said Diegel, on the school’s Web site. “Then, I sent the model to the 3D printer which sliced it up into very thin slices, and then ‘printed’ each slice, one on top of the other until the whole sax was printed. In this case, it ‘printed’ each slice by spreading a very thin layer of plastic powder, and a laser then scanned the shape of the sax for that layer. After that, it spread another layer of powder on top of the first, and repeated the process again and again until the whole sax was done.”

He said the next version will look better, because 3D printing enables the creation of shapes that are impossible using traditional manufacturing.

Diegel has previously printed other musical instruments, including guitars.