Harvard Folding Polyhedron Robotic Arm Sampler For Non-Destructive Capture

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July 28, 2018 | Originally published by Date Line: July 28 on

Folding polyhedron sampler enables easy capture and release of delicate underwater organisms.  The origami mechanism design could be scaled to just about any size, allowing it to be tailored for capture of larger or smaller objects.

(CAMBRIDGE, Mass.) — The open ocean is the largest and least explored environment on Earth, estimated to hold up to a million species that have yet to be described. However, many of those organisms are soft-bodied – like jellyfish, squid, and octopuses – and are difficult to capture for study with existing underwater tools, which all too frequently damage or destroy them. Now, a new device developed by researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study safely traps delicate sea creatures inside a folding polyhedral enclosure and lets them go without harm using a novel, origami-inspired design. The research is reported in Science Robotics.

“We approach these animals as if they are works of art: would we cut pieces out of the Mona Lisa to study it? No – we’d use the most innovative tools available. These deep-sea organisms, some being thousands of years old, deserve to be treated with a similar gentleness when we’re interacting with them,” said collaborating author David Gruber, Ph.D., who is a 2017-2018 Radcliffe Fellow, National Geographic Explorer, and Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Baruch College, CUNY.

The idea to apply folding properties to underwater sample collection began in 2014 when first author Zhi Ern Teoh, Ph.D., took a class from Chuck Hoberman, M.S., a Wyss Associate Faculty Member and Pierce Anderson Lecturer in Design Engineering at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, about creating folding mechanisms through computational means. “I was building microrobots by hand in graduate school, which was very painstaking and tedious work, and I wondered if there was a way to fold a flat surface into a three-dimensional shape using a motor instead,” said Teoh, a former Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wyss Institute in the lab of Robert Wood, Ph.D.; he is now an engineer at Cooper Perkins.

More information on the 3D printing aspects and function of the RAD can be found in The Verge article, This 3D-Printed Origami Trap Captures Delicate Sea Life Without Hurting Them.