Now, anyone can be a robotics designer with CardBoardiZer — a new computerized system that lets beginners turn static three-dimensional objects into their own moving robot.

The robotic versions can be built with simple materials such as cardboard, wood and sheet metal, according to

"We are taking inanimate objects and making them come alive," said Karthik Ramani, the Donald W. Feddersen Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University.

The new system, which was presented during the ACM Computer-Human Interaction 2016 conference in San Jose, Calif., grew out of earlier work based in Ramani's C Design Lab.

"We wanted to create a system that's much easier to use than other design programs, which are too complicated for the average person to learn," Ramani explained.

He said people can learn how to make an object, such as a plastic dinosaur, within minutes. Immovable parts are scanned with a laser, and then turned into a folding cardboard with movable head, mouth, limbs and a tail.

"Once I have the rough shape, this system can take over from there," Ramani said.

The models can be controlled using Ziro, a commercial product that uses joint modules equipped with wireless communicators and micro-controllers. Hand gestures while wearing a wireless "smart glove" controls the robotic models.

"We want everybody to become more artistic, to democratize the interfaces and accessibility of these tools so that they are more universally accessible and to lower the barriers to entry of designing and making these kinds of more sophisticated models," he said.

The objects are converted into flat versions, and then cut, folded and given motion, according to Ramani.

While this technique is only a prototype, CardBoardiZer can be an alternative to 3D printing, which has its limitations.

"I can make a dinosaur this big," Ramani said. "With 3D printing you'll be spending one month printing it, but CardBoardiZer works quickly with standard cardboard, wood or sheet metal."

Do-it-yourself projects inspired the creation of CardBoardiZer, which focuses more on design.

"Our geometric simplification algorithm can generate cardboardized models with a few folds, making it easy for children to fold and at the same time retaining a shape that the user desires," postdoctoral research associate and project leader Yunbo Zhang said.

See the CardBoardiZer in action here:


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