Ask Hackaday: What Can You Do With Origami?

At some point, most of us have learned a little of the ancient art of origami. It’s a fascinating art form, and being able to create a recognizable model by simply folding paper in the right order can be hugely satisfying. Most of us move on to other pursuits once we master the classic crane model, but the mathematics behind origami can lead some practitioners past the pure art to more practical structures, like this folding ballistic barrier for law enforcement use.

The fifty-pound Kevlar and aluminum structure comes from Brigham Young University’s College of Mechanical Engineering, specifically from the Compliant Mechanisms Research program. Compliant mechanisms move by bending or deflecting rather than joints between discrete parts, and this ballistic shield is a great example. The mechanism is based on the Yoshimura crease pattern, which can be quickly modeled with a piece of paper. Scaling that up to a full-sized structure, light enough to be fielded but strong enough to stop a .44 Magnum round, was no mean feat. But as the video below shows, the prototype has a lot of potential.

Now it’s your turn: what applications have you seen for compliant mechanisms? Potential applications range in scale from MEMS linkages for microinjecting cells to huge antennas that unfurl in orbit. We’ve featured a few origami-like structures before, like this self-assembling robot or a folding quadcopter, but neither of these really rates as compliant. This elegant parabolic satellite antenna is more like it, though. There are applications for designing origami and a mathematical basis for the field; has anyone tried using these tools to design compliant structures? Sound off in the comments below.

43 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: What Can You Do With Origami?

  1. Solar panel folding for space missions is an obvious example.

    What I really wonder is why they didn’t shoot any rifles at the barrier. Pistols are rather trivial to stop with today’s materials.

  2. Sorry, but “a .44 Magnum round” isn’t very descriptive. How many ‘grains’ at how many FPS? I can’t watch the video where I am so sorry if the info is given.

    I’ve been considering many ideas involving foldable robots but the ‘calculation and planning’ stage is a little over my head. I was wondering if a robot made of foldable solar panels would be worth attempting given the cost of photovoltaics and the risk of damaging them is so great.
    Always amazed at what fits inside of a cubesat! :)

    1. It’s NIJ Level IIIA classified, according to one article, so 15.6 g (240 gr) .44 Magnum Semi Jacketed Hollow Point (SJHP) bullets at a velocity of 436 m/s (1430 ft/s ± 30 ft/s), according to Wikipedia.

    2. Sorry, the video is a little light on the firearm details. I freeze-framed it, and the gun looks like a S&W Model 629 Performance Center with the 2.625″ barrel. The rounds are clearly jacketed flat-point or possibly semi-wadcutters, but definitely not hollow points. So at a guess I’d say they’re 240 grain and probably around 1100 fps. Unless they’re .44 S&W Special loads, which the 629 can chamber, in which case you’re looking more at 200-250 grains at 700-900 fps.

    1. Oh, that is very smart, I can see a lot of uses for that where you need to transport a bot in a compact form or have it change it’s height without using the usual variable suspension methods.

    1. That’s where you’re wrong, kiddo. First off, it’s Kinetic. Second, it’s targeted to weigh in at 50 pounds, and the flexibility of Kevlar absorbs the impact rippling the energy outward the point of impact.

      1. come on, diverging attention (3 posts) to an auto correction error (on a foreign input system), doesn’t make this awful linus blanket any better.. in addition as long as imperial is used, there’s no physics or techie talking, only nostalgia for dead languages

  3. Obviously that average university trained HAD criminal would just take the guy out with a ricochet off the parole car’s wheel hub, thus proving that playing billiards is a more useful survival skill than knowing how to fold paper.

  4. I live on an island, where almost everything has to be transported via trucks by one monopolistic ship company. Among those things are empty liquid containers ranging in size from 500lt to 5000 or 10000lt. Dimensions of the bigger ones are about 2-3m in height and diameter. These containers are made of polyethylene using the rotomolding technique. Due to the big space these things take up in the trucks, are hugely expensive to transport hence a container that costs to buy at the manufacturer 150€ may sell to individuals 600€. So if there was a way to compress the empty containers using origami to reduce transportation costs while retaining strength characteristics would be awesome.

    1. There’s a lot of designs for folding water containers for camping – might be worth taking a look at those? Even if you have to add some steel or something for strength, if shipping cost is largely by volume, you’d be on to a winner.
      Alternatively, presumably they’d float, so just tie a bunch of them to the back of the truck, on a long enough line that the boat doesn’t notice them tagging along behind… :P

    2. This problem has already been solved, metal tubes for frame plus wooden sheets for walls that contain a plastic or rubber bladder. Ever seen “boxed wine”, like that but industrial strength and the parts can be recycled in to many different things with garage level tools.

  5. Kevlar is pretty bad about developing weaknesses when flexed/stressed over time, and this seems pretty ripe for the big 3: folding, Sunlight/heat, and moisture.

    a Hinged steel barrier would maybe have more utility in it (perhaps with a lexan panel near the top to see out of.)

  6. That Nova episode mentioned above was a stunning display of the vast uses of origami. Between The Folds is an older video that I would also recommend. I’ve seen an origami-inspired glasses case made of rigid triangles with flexible connected edges and magnets that make it snap together to give it shape, and if the magnet were disconnected, it folds flat. Those shoes up top reminded me of it. I’ve been doing origami for 24 years now, and even with all we know about folding, I think there are a lot more advancements to be made in the field and many other fields that can benefit from origami techniques.

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