Informal Robotics / New Paradigms for Design & Construction

Today new materials and fabrication techniques are transforming the field of robotics. Rather than rigid metal parts connected by mechanical components, robots may now be made of folded paper, carbon laminates or soft gels. They may be formed fully integrated from a 2D or 3D printer rather than assembled from individual components. Light, compliant, highly customized – we are seeing the emergence of a new design paradigm.

Informal Robotics is a direct collaboration between the Wyss Institute’s Bioinspired Robotics platform ( and the GSD.  Within the class, you will interact with Wyss researchers who will share their unique designs for ambulatory and flying robots, end-effectors, medical instruments and other applications.

The class will explore informal robotics from multiple perspectives, culminating with the design and fabrication of original devices displaying animated intelligence in real-time. Going beyond traditional engineering approaches, we will also explore new opportunities for design at the product, architectural, and urban scales.

The class will be organized along four primary topics:
– Kinematics includes an overview of mechanism principles, design techniques for pop-ups, flat-folding origami structures, and soft mechanisms.

– Fabrication methods will be explored through workshops on use of composite materials, laminated assembly techniques, self-folding, and integrated flexures.

– Controls considers how to actuate movement and program desired behavior. Topics include servos, linear actuators, shape memory alloys (SMAs) and use of Arduino for sensing and actuator control.

Applications takes us beyond purely technological concerns, contextualizing Informal Robotics within larger trends where materials, manufacturing and computation are starting to merge.

Format, prerequisites, evaluation:
This course includes weekly lectures, workshops, and guest lectures. There will be assignments to produce test mechanisms and CAD models, followed by final group projects. Presentations and discussions of ongoing student work are integral to the course. Although, there are no firm prerequisites, some knowledge of scripting and/or fabrication using CNC machines is helpful. Evaluation will be based on completion of assignments and the final project.

Seminar/ Workshop in collaboration with the Wyss Institute’s Bioinspired Robotics Platform

Jointly Offered Course: SEAS ES256