Big Things Come In Small Packages
To start things off, take a look at these two videos straight from mother nature, the ultimate "big things, small places" expert. The first, a morning glory, which we may have shown before, is definitely amazing enough to look at twice. Imagine this same sort of unfolding going on for solar cells, or a cellphone antenna. Another great example of this kind of unfurling is in a newly emergent cicada as it sheds its larval exoskeleton for it's wings. Insect exoskeletons are actually made of a sort of air-curing polymer. This allows the cicada to grow it's wings all bunched up under its larval skin for easy burrowing underground, and then pump them full of fluid to inflate them upon emergence. Later, after the air dries the wings, they are rigid, and no longer need the fluid pressure, which evaporates, making the cicada light enough for flight. Check out this time lapse video, paying particular attention to the last part where the cicada inflates its wings.
On the subject of insects, particularly silk moths, a fabulous example of folded surfaces was developed called Shibori. This art form, involving carefully pleating, folding, binding, and dyeing silk, then treating it with chemical baths which set the shape of the folds creates fabric which is almost unbelievable.
These pieces, by designer Genevieve Dion (one of my co-students :) are some contemporary versions of this art. Designers now use synthetics, as well as silk, and a variety of mechanical aids to help their deformations along.
Browsing Core77 the other day, we came across a great use of folding for both packing and structural properties. This tent for refugees from warzones and disaster areas is folded for maximum simplicity of assembly (basically unfurl it) and maximum strength, without any reinforcing (and expensive) bars. A basic tutorial of how to create this sort of fold on your own is available online.
The future may be even more interesting when it comes to folding. Tim Antoniuk at the University of Alberta in Canada wants to use new memory plastics to do away with the idea of recycling. Instead, these plastics would allow re-forming of the material without reprocessing, so bowls could be molded into plates, then cups, then toys as the mood suited the user. Other researchers want our products to fold up on the molecular level, using tailored molecules which re-form the chemistry and crystal structure of the product's materials to make new functionality.
Products will always be limited in some physical way by the constraints of the real world. These methods, and others like them are simply ways of bending a little more performance out of the designs we make. So get to folding.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team