We all have attended paper folding lessons in our craft classes at school. Using the origami paper in these classes and folding it to make new creatures and things have even made us think that we can become the crafting specialist or a paper folding specialist. But have we ever wondered what these paper folding techniques or origami paper folding techniques have the potential to reshape our future? It seems strange but not impossible as Northeastern University’s researcher Soroush Kamrava believes that the next generation of solar panels and airbags will be shaped by the ancient Japanese art of paper folding.
Origami is a branch of art that only uses geometry, which is the same base for mechanical structures. Traditional origami uses paper. However, most engineering applications require materials with definitive thickness and enough strength and stiffness to properly perform. That’s where metamaterials come in. Kamrava uses 3D printers in the Machine Shop on campus to create smart structures—objects that can collapse, absorb energy, and spring back into place using the geometric principles of origami. He advocates that an origami expert can turn a few basic folds into a complex design. The challenge for engineers is to create a system of folds that is structurally sound and can be reproduced.
Kamrava uses metamaterials to replicate patterns and shapes he encounters every day. He produces a paper version of the design with an origami printer. He then plays with the sample, folding it and unfolding it, to ensure it can be replicated using stronger materials. Once that’s confirmed, 3D printers fabricate geometric-shaped pieces in the desired metamaterial, usually plastic, which can sometimes take hours depending on each piece’s size. Kamrava assembles the final structure using metal hinges to mimic origami paper folds. Applying a small amount of pressure changes the structure’s shape. Since the hinges absorb the stress, the change can be made again and again. This is how he termed the origami structure as the potent future reshaper.