Self-folding Origami ”Robots” for Cognitive Smart Materials

   Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project


With the development of smart materials capable of sensing and changing states, the realisation of 'robots' that are paper-like materials but that can fold themselves up, start moving, and adapt to the situation while sensing their environment is becoming a reality.

The question of how an origami “machine” made of passive self-folding materials, which is bound by deterministic causality, even though it is seemingly autonomous like a robot, can acquire mechanically attained computational (Brain-like) functions, behave autonomously, and even realise cognitive behaviour is a very deep scientific question and one that stimulates our intellectual interest.

Our group has developed a variety of origami robots, one of which is an extension of the functionality of origami by allowing it to 'wear' origami on its own [1].


The project aims to realise “cognitive smart materials” by designing and developing new mechanically realised 'brains' using origami structures, and to develop 'materials' that act emergently and autonomously.

In simple terms, we will use origami and realise mechanisms such as neural networks-like or sensors that will be implemented in robots so that the origami can act while avoiding obstacles or sense chemical/optical gradients in the environment, even though origami is the material.

The assigned student may engage in design-focused development if she/he is interested in mechanics; if interested in autonomy, may specialise in the behaviour that the material enables; if in materials, may develop sensors (using materials that deform according to external stimuli such as temperature) and implement them in robots. The student will learn how to control the robot using an external magnetic field driven by a computer and how to programme it.


- Design of origami ‘brain’

- Design of origami sensing mechanism

- Implementation of them into an origami robot and realise intelligent behaviour

- Control of the robot using external magnetic fields by writing programming code.

- Testing and evaluating by conducting experiments

- Disseminating the work by writing a scientific paper.

Eligibility Criteria:

- Areas of Research (you should fit into one of the following areas): Engineering (ME, EE, CS, Control, Design), Robotics, Material Sciences, Physics, BioEngineering.

- Students interested in developing hardware in a lab environment.

- Students who enjoy learning new fabrication techniques and making things with their hands.

- Students who are able to interact with group members and work on projects.

The Research Group: 

The Sheffield Microbotics Lab (SML) at the University of Sheffield is an interdisciplinary group with a focus on robotics technology, developing robots ranging in size from a few millimetres to the palm of a hand. The lab has a luxurious space of 150-metre squares, including a dedicated cleanroom and equipment for robot fabrication, and chemical and biological areas. The University of Sheffield is among the world’s top 100 universities in the QS university ranking (2022). and first in the UK for engineering research investment (HESA report 2019), with £200M funded for the UK’s flagship manufacturing research centre, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). 


The environment, with an over £120k equipment investment, provides excellent conditions for the proposed research. The space is shared with the Sheffield Biomedical Robotics Lab led by Dr Dana Damian, which enables active student interaction, such as co-running journal clubs and research progress meetings. The members are also affiliated with Sheffield Robotics, the fourth leading centre for robotics research in the UK, facilitating research collaborations. 

Learn about our group at

Support and training: 

Students are supervised by the supervisor once a week through one-to-one meetings. They also present a monthly progress report in the lab and receive feedback from senior members. The student will be provided with a research budget, which can be used for attending an international conference and a domestic conference during the period of the programme.  The department, Automatic Control and Systems Engineering (ACSE), runs a cohort training and support for all students (e.g. PGR Symposium, seminars on scientific writing, ED&I, etc.), with structured events and support available throughout their studies. 

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Engineering (12)

Funding Notes

Scholarships within the department/faculty are available for home and non-UK students with good grades. The deadline is late January each year, but students are encouraged to contact the supervisor early to get support in preparing their applications. Opening positions are also available in the lab on an irregular basis each year, so interested students should contact me even if scholarships are not mentioned here.
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Self-funded students with grades above a certain level are also welcome to apply.


[1] Miyashita, S., Guitron, S., Li, S., and Rus D. (2017) Robotic Metamorphosis by Origami Exoskeletons, Science Robotics, 2(10), eaao4369.

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