Motorized Origami

If you’re looking for an easy and fun project to do with your kids, this is a really great one!  With some paper and a few other simple materials, you can make a herd of origami creatures that scuttle about!

Supplies

Make it

First you’re going to have to make some cute origami creatures. They can be anything you like, but I will give you some pointers: if you want your creation to wiggle across the table, rather than toppling over and getting stuck on its side, look for a form with a very stable bottom.

I really like this one from Pink Stripey Socks. It’s Totoro, from the Japanese movie My Neighbor Totoro. It couldn’t be cuter and it’s super easy.

Cranes seemed to work well too and the International Crane Foundation has an easy tutorial. Take your pick. Fold away, and embellish with markers if you like. You may want to use scissors if you are making Totoro to cut out his ears, or if you need to cut a rectangular piece of paper into a square.

The circuit

I like to say that a circuit is sort of like a circle. When it is complete it works (on);  when there’s a break in the circuit it acts like a switch and the circuit stops functioning (off). We’re going to connect all our components and the paper clip or binder clip will hold our batter in place. When we want to turn it off, we’ll remove the clip or move it off to the side. Stay with me. I’ll explain.

  1. Attach the motor somewhere near the base of your origami creature. The motor vibrates, which is what makes the origami move. The closer the motor is to the base, the the origami vibrates (wiggles) against the table. This vibration becomes movement. You will play around with the motor’s placement after completing the circuit. If it’s really off balance your creature might spin in circles, which can be super fun. 
  2. Use copper tape to firmly attach the tip of the black wire from the motor to where you will clip the battery in place. For Totoro, inside near the top worked really well (see video above).
  3. Use the copper tape to attach the red wire directly to the positive (+) side of the battery.
  4. Now place the negative (-) side of the battery on top of the black wire/copper tape you created in step 1 and clip in place with your paper clip or binder clip and watch it go!

Troubleshooting: making circuits with copper tape can be tricky. Use a couple layers of copper tape, one directly on the paper, then one or two right over the exposed metal core of your wire and onto the first layer of copper tape. Press firmly. 

A note on polarity: We can see that our batteries have two different sides. Generally, we want to make sure we don’t cross our wires (red doesn’t touch black). Red is conventionally used for positive leads in a circuit and black is used for negative leads. But these little motors will actually work even if they are wired the opposite way. That makes this a safe project to begin learning about circuits.

The motor on this paper crane is placed on its neck. It might move faster if it were closer to the base.

Customize it

Try different sizes and colors of paper, different origami creatures, and change up the placement of your components. Anything that changes the weight distribution will affect how your creation moves. You can draw on your origami, or festoon it with sequins or pompoms. Build several and have a race! Have a great time!

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