Kamigami: The affordable origami robot that anyone can build

These adorable bug-bots can be assembled by hand without tools, then programmed and controlled via smartphone.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
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Three different chassis give the robots personality. Dash Robotics

Robotic vacuum cleaners, autonomous drones, driverless cars: There's no escaping it, robots are looming ever larger in humanity's future. And anyway, robots are fascinating, so whether it's to dip your toe into learning about robotics or simply to have a bit of fun, Kamigami is a light, affordable option.

It's the latest iteration of the origami-inspired robot from Dash Robotics, created by a team of UC Berkeley Ph.D. engineers. The team released its first DIY origami robot in 2013 after a few years in development, and Kamigami, currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, represents several improvements on the original design.

"Kamigami are the world's first lightning-fast, origami-style robots that you can build yourself!" the team wrote. "Our robots are perfect for those looking for a fun, spring-to-life, do-it-yourself project that won't break the bank. It's a great educational tool for kids that want to get an early start in robotics, engineering, and biology, as well as a great platform for makers that want to dig in and take robotics to exciting new places."

The six-legged plastic composite robot can still be made by hand, but refinements to the design mean that everything you need to build Kamigami comes right in the box. You don't need tools, and you don't need glue or tape. The robot comes flat-packed and laser-cut, and is put together with rivets, which are included. According to the campaign, it should take less than an hour to assemble.

The plastic composite material was designed by the team, and is patent pending. According to the team, this composite is frictionless, which means that the robots are more efficient, not having to expend energy to counteract the friction of its own body parts rubbing together. It is highly durable, which means the robot can take large falls without damage, and the material doesn't wear.

You'll also get a choice of three character chassis designs. These aren't functional, but they do make the robot a little more fun to look at.

Kamigami will also be compatible with free iOS and Android apps that communicate with the robots via Bluetooth. These allow you to program the robot using a simple drag-and-drop system that teaches children how to create a sequence of actions for a robot to perform. The app also controls the Kamigami.

Each robot is fitted with infrared emitters and detectors. These allow the Kamigami to communicate with each other, depending on commands executed via the app. Two robots meeting could mean one robot chases another, or that they perform a greeting maneuver, or that a message is sent to the apps to be read by the human controllers.

Other sensors include a visible light sensor and a three-axis gyroscope and a three-axis accelerometer. These last are because the robots, inspired by cockroaches, can go very fast.

"Kamigami robots are designed to run like the world's fastest animals. Biologists have discovered that all animals feature an alternating gait -- whether they have two legs, four, six, or more," the team wrote.

"We've baked this into Kamigami by building a linkage that alternates the up and down motion of each leg. The circular motion of the motors is turned into elliptical motion of the legs through these linkages. By doing this, we get a leg pattern very similar to real animals!"

With a total charging time of about half an hour, which will give the lithium-ion battery around half an hour to an hour of play time. That doesn't seem like a huge amount, but would probably suffice for most purposes.

You can reserve a Kamigami robot for a minimum pledge of $49, shipping in March 2016, with classroom kits containing 10 robots starting at $450. Retail price will be $69. You can hit up the Kickstarter page for more info and to pledge your support.