VIDEO: Shapeshifting metamaterial could allow for popup houses from a backpack and other crazy concepts

03/21/2016 - 17:29

Packing your house into a backpack or adding a new window to a wall with the flick of a switch has been made possible by a new shapeshifting material.

Harvard researchers have designed a new foldable, self-actuated 3-D material that can be continuously controlled and reprogrammed to change size, volume and shape.

The study appears today in Nature Communications and offers a glimpse into the material that was inspired by an origami technique called snapology.


Ref: A three-dimensional actuated origami-inspired transformable metamaterial with multiple degrees of freedom. Nature Communications (11 March 2016) | DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10929 | PDF (Open Access)


Reconfigurable devices, whose shape can be drastically altered, are central to expandable shelters, deployable space structures, reversible encapsulation systems and medical tools and robots. All these applications require structures whose shape can be actively controlled, both for deployment and to conform to the surrounding environment. While most current reconfigurable designs are application specific, here we present a mechanical metamaterial with tunable shape, volume and stiffness. Our approach exploits a simple modular origami-like design consisting of rigid faces and hinges, which are connected to form a periodic structure consisting of extruded cubes. We show both analytically and experimentally that the transformable metamaterial has three degrees of freedom, which can be actively deformed into numerous specific shapes through embedded actuation. The proposed metamaterial can be used to realize transformable structures with arbitrary architectures, highlighting a robust strategy for the design of reconfigurable devices over a wide range of length scales.