Harvard researchers in the US have created a new self-transformable material that can change size, volume and shape.
Inspired by an origami technique called snapology, the three-dimensional modular structure can fold flat to withstand weight, before popping back up to its original shape. It is made up of extruded cubes with 24 faces and 36 edges that act like hinges, allowing it to grow and shrink, and change its shape and stiffness. The cubic design could be theoretically developed at multiple scales, from nanoscale to meter scale.
According to Chuck Hoberman and Johannes Overvelde, lead researchers of the project, the structural system has fascinating implications for dynamic architecture, including portable shelters, adaptive building facades, and retractable roofs. The structural concept could be used to make anything from surgical stents to pop-up shelters for disaster relief.
The team demonstrated how air-powered tubes could be used to change the structure's shape in every direction, but added the structure could also be adapted to respond to electrical current, liquid and heat.
The most interesting applications will arise when the control systems are completely integrated into the structure, particularly if combined with responsive sensors and algorithms. This could allow complex structures to adapt to external conditions on their own.
New technologies in shape-shifting and self-transformable materials are further explored in Wondrous Response 2017/18. We also underline the rising importance of self-thinking materials in Look Ahead 2016 – Colour & Materials. For more details and other case studies, see Adapt, Fold & Transform.