Our latter day Prometheans (is that a word?) heartily boast of creating “programmable matter” and “4D printing”. This would be crazy if it weren’t true that astonishing, near magical designs are coming every day.
Many of these developments are inspired by nature and by origami. As I have said, it is clear that all Engineering and Design students should learn origami as part of the twenty first century curriculum.
This spring researchers at ETH Zurich report on an cool development which is inspired by the wing of an earwig . This is especially interesting because the biological system actually works better than conventional origami.
The wing of the Dermaptera has an extremely large range from compactly folded to open in flight. It also deploys without muscular action (i.e., it unfolds), but snaps into a strong rigid form for flight. Their analysis shows that “current origami models are not sufficient to describe its exceptional functionality” (, p.1387)
They conclude that the key feature is that unlike “strict” origami, the earwig wings are not folded on straight rigid lines. Instead, they folds are curved and consist of elastic biopolymer, which is springy The biopolymer behaves as a system of extensional and rotational springs.
Not origami, but origami plus (biological) clockwork!
The researchers explain that this bioinspired analysis opens a broad space for “spring origami”, which exceeds the capabilities of traditional origami. The paper has the technical details, which, among other things, involve complex surfaces of energy levels in multiple springs which yield bistable regimes (i.e., snap through).
This analysis makes possible the design and fabrication of many different low energy, folding systems.
“We transferred the biological design principles extracted from the earwig wing into a functional synthetic folding system that can be directly manufactured by 4D printing” (, p. 1390)
“Our ability to tune the energy barrier between bistable states using simple geometrical and material properties […] enables the design and fabrication of spring origami structures that can undergo fast morphing, triggered by an environmental stimulus.”
The researchers see potential for many applications, including antennas and solar arrays for space craft, architecture, robots, or packaging.
I’m seeing a fancy new version of an umbrella—lighter, stronger, and simpler design.
- Jakob A. Faber, Andres F. Arrieta, and André R. Studart, Bioinspired spring origami. Science, 359 (6382):1386, 2018. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6382/1386.abstract
- Peter Rüegg, Earwigs and the art of origami, in ETH News. 2018. https://www.ethz.ch/en/news-and-events/eth-news/news/2018/03/earwigs-and-the-art-of-origami.html
Robot Origami Wednesday