Sequential Self-Folding Structures by 3D Printed Digital Shape Memory Polymers

Folding is ubiquitous in nature with examples ranging from the formation of cellular components to winged insects. It finds technological applications including packaging of solar cells and space structures, deployable biomedical devices, and self-assembling robots and airbags. Here we demonstrate sequential self-folding structures realized by thermal activation of spatially-variable patterns that are 3D printed with digital shape memory polymers, which are digital materials with different shape memory behaviors. The time-dependent behavior of each polymer allows the temporal sequencing of activation when the structure is subjected to a uniform temperature. This is demonstrated via a series of 3D printed structures that respond rapidly to a thermal stimulus, and self-fold to specified shapes in controlled shape changing sequences. Measurements of the spatial and temporal nature of self-folding structures are in good agreement with the companion finite element simulations. A simplified reduced-order model is also developed to rapidly and accurately describe the self-folding physics. An important aspect of self-folding is the management of self-collisions, where different portions of the folding structure contact and then block further folding. A metric is developed to predict collisions and is used together with the reduced-order model to design self-folding structures that lock themselves into stable desired configurations.”