Imagine being able to unfurl a huge tent that immediately pitched itself from a small bag. That's what this material could provide, according to a a team of researchers from Harvard. The structure is actually built up from a series of extruded cubes, like the one below. With edges extended out from the central cube, there are a total of 24 faces and 36 edges on the odd-looking shape. First, the team showed that this single structure could be deformed in a bunch of different ways, by folding different edges. Then adding in a simple pneumatic system allowed the team to have the device change shape all by itself. You can see that happening in this gif.
Then, the researchers assembled 64 of the things to create a large cube, that you can see at the top of the article. By moving in unison, the individual cells can cause the whole object to fold flat, stand upright, or assume a position somewhere in between. What's neat is that the assumed geometry affects the properties of the bulk object: It can be stiff or pliable as required. And it's versatile, too, according to Johannes Overvelde, one of the researchers:
This research demonstrates a new class of foldable materials that is also completely scalable. It works from the nanoscale to the meter-scale and could be used to make anything from surgical stents to portable pop-up domes for disaster relief.
Now get us one of those tents, already.
Images by Johannes Overvelde/SEAS