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Fold Your Own Electronic Flapping Crane [How-To]

Make an origami crane that gracefully flaps its wings when you squeeze its tail.

by Kathleen Flood
Jul 5 2011, 11:00pm

In Japan, the crane is considered to be one of the country’s holiest animals, and anyone who folds an origami paper crane will be granted good luck. Legend has it that folding 1000 paper cranes will make a person’s wish come true, so they’re often given as wedding presents and baby gifts—and are widely recognized as universal symbols of world peace.

The High-Low Tech Group at the MIT Media Lab recently posted a project on how to wire a paper crane to flap its wings. If you or anyone you know is in dire need of a little voltage of good luck, this week’s How-To will walk you through the process.

Some materials that you’ll need are a 9" by 9" origami paper square, an HT Flexinol wire that contracts when heated, crimp beads, a 9V battery and snap holder, copper foil tape, a soldering iron, and sewing thread and a needle. Download the origami wing pattern and fold your bird as instructed here.

Cut out the wing patterns and stick two 1" strips of copper tape to the ends. Attach crimp beads to the nitinol wire, and tape down to the pattern, following its natural curve. Then solder the crimp beads (therefore the wire) onto the copper tape.

Tie one end of the thread around each one of the pieces of copper tape and sew the wire to the paper following the zigzags. Then cut out the wings of the pattern and solder one end of the battery holder onto each wing. Cut two pieces of wire and solder a small piece of copper tape to each wire. Then solder onto each wing following the circuit pattern that you already downloaded above.

Preheat the nitinol wire by attaching the battery to the holder and completing the circuit by touching the two dangling copper wires together. Let the wire heat for 10-15 seconds or until the wings stop curling.

Next, lift up the pieces of copper tape and pull taut. Then stick the copper tape back down. Now unfold your original paper crane and insert the electronics into the bird, nitinol wire facing out.

Refold the paper crane and construct the switch by taping one copper strip to each side of the tail. They should touch when you squeeze the tail and separate when you let go. Now all you need to do is add the battery, and pass on your well wishes.

Visit the High-Low Tech Group’s How-To for further instruction, more detailed photographs, and tips on where to buy materials.