A team of researchers have developed a new zippered tube configuration that allows paper structures strong enough to carry weights that can be folded flat for easy shipping and storage.
The researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Tokyo, used a particular origami technique called Miura-ori folding, where they made precise, zigzag-folded strips of paper, then glued two strips together to make a tube. While the single strip of paper is highly flexible, the tube is stiffer and does not fold in as many directions.
Earlier researchers tried coupling tubes in different configurations to increase the structural stiffness of the paper structures. But they found that interlocking of two tubes in zipper-like fashion made them much stiffer and harder to twist or bend. Adding to this, the structure was able to fold flat rapidly and easily expand to the rigid tube configuration.
Commenting on the new configuration, Glaucio Paulino, Georgia Tech professor, said, “The geometry really plays a role. We are putting two tubes together in a strange way. What we want is a structure that is flexible and stiff at the same time. This is just paper, but it has tremendous stiffness.”
The researchers claims that the zipper configuration can be extended to tubes with different angles of folding. By combining tubes with different geometries, they were able to make different three-dimensional structures, such as a bridge, a canopy or a tower.
Evgueni Filipov, an Illinois graduate researcher, stated, “The ability to change functionality in real time is a real advantage in origami. By having these transformable structures, you can change their functionality and make them adaptable. They are reconfigurable. You can change the material characteristics: You can make them stiffer or softer depending on the intended use.”
The team used paper prototypes to demonstrate how a thin, flexible sheet can be folded into functional structures. However, they claim their techniques could be applied to other thin materials and also could combine metal or plastic panels with hinges for larger-scale applications.
The researchers are planning to explore new combinations of tubes with different angles to build new structures. By applying these techniques to other material, they are exploring different applications ranging from large-scale construction to microscopic structures for biomedical devices or robotics.
Excerpts and image courtesy of The University of Illinois