Paper Cutouts Come to Life with AutoGami

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Getting homemade paper crafts to move on their own would normally require having a technological whizkid in the house. Or some Disney magic. Researchers in Singapore just debuted a toolkit that can bring your wackiest cutouts to life in no time at all.

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The AutoGami toolkit was developed by Shen Zhao, an assistant professor of computer science, and PhD student Kening Zhu at the National University of Singapore. Zhao said they were inspired by Japanese researchers who made automated paper crafts using shape-memory alloy. Those groups integrated the lightweight and flexible metal directly into paper and programmed simple movements.

Zhao and Zhu, who specialize in interactive creative tools, appreciated the low cost of SMAs but saw they had limited capabilities. They were bulky, required wires and could be difficult to control. So the two worked on making a better system that anyone who’s handy with paper and scissors could figure out.

They removed the annoying wires by using technology known as selective inductive wireless power transmission. In short, this allows different parts in a paper creation such as arms and doors to be controlled independently. The researchers also designed straightforward software to set the speed, magnitude and direction of each springlike movement in a paper craft. All a user needs to do is attach the shape memory alloys to the paper pieces, hit the power, and voilà — the cutout comes alive!

I love the blend of low and high tech at play here. The system brings to mind cardboard Kinetic Creatures and makes me want to spend all afternoon getting funny puppets to move on their own. A video showing the AutoGami system in action with various homemade crafts can be seen here.

AutoGami is being presented this week in Paris at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems known as CHI 2013. The system currently costs around $100, but Zhao expects that could get closer to $50 if the toolkit can be mass-produced.

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While the immediate creative uses are probably in the classroom and at home, Zhao said they’re talking to firms in Singapore about using the toolkit for interior design and architectural projects as a way to show potential functionality in a building. Real-world applications would be helpful and all but I can’t wait to see what the hipsters come up when they get their hands on this.

Photo: A dog and house for creative storytelling created with the AutoGami toolkit. Credit: Kening Zhu

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