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Load-bearing origami structures

Researchers at the University of Michigan in the US developed a system which can be used to make load-bearing structures like bridges and shelters using origami modules.

Origami shapes are versatile components that can fold compactly and adapt into different shapes. For years, researchers have struggled to create origami systems with the necessary weight capacities while keeping the ability to quickly deploy and reconfigure.

The researchers of the University of Michigan have done just that. They developed a 1-metre tall (3.3ft) column that can support 1.8 tonnes (2.1 US tons) of weight while itself weighing just over 7.25 kg (16 pounds), as well as a package that can unfold from a 0.5-metre-wide (1.6 ft) cube to deploy into different structures, including a 4 metre-long (13 ft) walking bridge, a 2-metre-tall (6.5 ft) bus stop and a 4-metre-tall (13 ft) column.

The breakthrough came in using a different design approach, rather than using thin paper-folded models. In order to build common structures like bridges and bus stops using origami, one needs mathematical tools that can directly consider thickness during the initial origami design.

Often, researchers have attempted to thicken their paper-thin designs in varying spots. However, it turns out that uniformity is key to prevent bending.

In addition to carrying a large load, this system, known as the Modular and Uniformly Thick Origami-Inspired Structure system, can adapt its shapes to become bridges, walls, floors, columns and many other structures.

Photos: Brenda Ahearn, Michigan Engineering