As an assistant professor in mechanical engineering, Cagdas Onal considers educating students to be an important part of an academic career. Onal, who teaches robotics courses at WPI, is a co-founder of Orimagi, an educational startup that helps students craft working robots from the fairly simple paper-folding principles of origami. The approach takes the complexity of robotics and turns it into a fun and approachable format that’s easy to grasp.

How do you define entrepreneurship?

The general term may mean taking risk, but I see what I do as taking our lessons from scientific and technological research and finding ways to use them to benefit as many people as possible.

As an entrepreneur, when do you feel successful?

While I really don’t consider myself an entrepreneur (I’m only advising technical development), Orimagi will be successful when origami-inspired robotic systems are commonly used as educational tools. There are many benefits to origami compared to alternatives, for young minds to develop manual and visualization skills, to understand the basics of mechanisms and control electronics, and to program and test their systems. I believe this entertaining craft-like approach will make it easier to teach STEM to a broad and inclusive group of students of all ages.

How would you describe your approach to your work?

Broadly speaking, we try to find ways to take our complex design and manufacturing solutions developed for experts in a lab setting, and convert them into simpler and more general actions that everybody can learn. The goal is for everyone who can fold an origami crane to be able to build these robots following our instructions, while keeping the robots fully functional.

How is WPI valuable to you as an innovator and entrepreneur?

WPI greatly emphasizes innovation and project-based learning. This hands-on culture is very useful to incubate new ideas and come up with first prototypes. We never have shortage of motivated and skilled students at WPI. The MQP program is a great potential resource for companies big and small to make connections with WPI faculty and students, sponsoring projects to explore many directions quickly and efficiently.