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Shapeshifting houses and inflatable incubators for humanitarian use

Shapeshifting houses and inflatable incubators for humanitarian use
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Buildings are traditionally rigid and stationary. But in the future, those made with a Shape Memory Polymer could change form and expand with changes in temperature. Researchers at Barcelona’s Institute of Advanced Architecture have laid the foundations with an origami prototype building that bends and twists at high temperatures. Researchers were looking for a material with the ability to shapeshift and remember its initial form.

Ece Tankal is a student and team member: “While we were trying to find the exact material that could change phase from a rubbery state to a solid state, which could act as a structural element in the building, we came up with this new material.”

The project known as ‘Translated Geometries’ uses triangular tiles to make up the origami structure. The team can then create movement at each correcting point, or node, of the construction.

Ramin Shambayati another student explains: “By heating each specific node we can soften the material and then by pulling or pushing it will determine what the final output is. Upon cooling again it holds the new shape. So right now this is cool and hard and it is not going to move, but when we re-soften it, it can easily be transformed.”

The polymer is heated directly using electric wires. Once the temperature passes 62 degrees Celsius it becomes elastic, allowing the building to bend and twist.

Drones attached to the structure by wires fly around it and stretch it into the desired position. They then hold the structure in the new shape for two minutes while it cools down.

Areti Markopoulou is the project’s academic director: “We can take our houses with us like animals do in nature and we can transform it according to what we need: if it is a bigger family then we need to expand our house or whether we need more transparency and translucency because of the light and outside temperature. So our house would be able to adapt to that. And we could even put it in our pocket and then unfold it and create a three-dimensional structure.”

While we’re unlikely to see entire buildings like the ‘Translated Geometries’ prototype in the near future, the principle could be applied to parts of an overall structure.

Inflatable incubator

It was the plight of Syrian refugees which inspired design student James Roberts’ final year university project – a low cost incubator to save the lives of premature babies. With traditional incubators costing around 40,000 euros, James came up with the following solution: an inflatable incubator. Easy to clean, and compact, costing around 300 euros to produce and deliver.

James elaborates: “It’s basically an insulated piece of air, so it’s like the difference between double and single glazing, so it’s easier to keep the inside at a stable heat environment, heat temperature. The actual size of the incubator can be very small when it’s compressed, so that saves money on shipping costs especially. So you don’t need a whole crate in an airplane instead you can put this in already used care packages and then just ship them out there. So, it’s a lot cheaper.”

Roberts says he has received an extremely positive reaction from aid organisations, but while some are ready to place orders, he needs more time to develop his prototype.