Origami, the ancient art of paper folding, has inspired the design of engineering devices and structures for decades. The underlying principles of origami are very general, which has led to applications ranging from cardboard containers to deployable space structures. More recently, researchers have become interested in the use of active materials (i.e., those that convert various forms of energy into mechanical work) to effect the desired folding behavior. When used in a suitable geometry, active materials allow engineers to create self-folding structures. Such structures are capable of performing folding and/or unfolding operations without being kinematically manipulated by external forces or moments. This is advantageous for many applications including space systems, underwater robotics, small scale devices, and self-assembling systems. This article is a survey and analysis of prior work on active self-folding structures as well as methods and tools available for the design of folding structures in general and self-folding structures in particular. The goal is to provide researchers and practitioners with a systematic view of the state-of-the-art in this important and evolving area. Unifying structural principles for active self-folding structures are identified and used as a basis for a quantitative and qualitative comparison of numerous classes of active materials. Design considerations specific to folded structures are examined, including the issues of crease pattern identification and fold kinematics. Although few tools have been created with active materials in mind, many of them are useful in the overall design process for active self-folding structures. Finally, the article concludes with a discussion of open questions for the field of origami-inspired engineering. © 2014 IOP Publishing Ltd.
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