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[Image above] Credit: Sonny Abesamis; Flickr CC BY 2.0

Our lives are very busy. So if technology is willing to give us a helping hand, I, for one, am willing to take it.

Advances have already allowed a myriad of self-cleaning surfaces, self-arching bridges, self-tinting windows, and self-destructing electronics—all of which are carefully engineered to perform their intended function semi-autonomously.

Materials are even willing to fold themselves into appropriate structures—like these silicon flytraps and this silicon nitride origami—so that you can just sit back and watch them do all the work.

Scientists at Donghua University in Shanghai, China, have now created new materials that perform a more entertaining show—their graphene oxide innovation seems to have a mind of its own.

When fashioned into paper, the team found that graphene oxide makes the perfect autonomous origami, with high flexibility and mechanical strength.

The scientists patterned the paper with polymer masks to create selective regions that constrict when hit with infrared light (photothermal folding). Those patterned areas act as seams, using the constriction to animate the paper.

Credit: Science Magazine; YouTube


In addition to sensors and artificial muscles, the scientists think there are many possible uses for their graphene oxide innovation. “Down the road, such materials could prove valuable for making sensors able to detect humidity, light, and electric fields, as well as insectlike robots capable of carrying far more than their body weight,” according to a Science news article about the research.

The open-access paper, published in Science Advances, is “Origami-inspired active graphene-based paper for programmable instant self-folding walking devices” (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500533).