Can you imagine an inflatable building that holds its shape perfectly? Today’s inflatable structures are monostable (they need a constant input of pressure in order to maintain their inflated state). This type of structure is used for a wide range of occasions, from sports complexes to field hospitals. Researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed bistable inflatable structures inspired by origami.

These systems don’t require continuous pressure

“This research provides a direct pathway for a new generation of robust, large-scale inflatable systems that lock in place after deployment and don’t require continuous pressure,” said Katia Bertoldi, the William and Ami Kuan Danoff Professor of Applied Mechanics at SEAS and senior author of the paper.

During the development of these structures, the geometry of individual blocks in various configurations was investigated. The aim was for the objects to permanently retain their shape after inflation.

Inflatable buildings can be cheap

“We are relying on the geometry of these building blocks, not the material characteristics, which means we can make these building blocks out of almost any materials, including inexpensive recyclable materials,” said Benjamin Gorissen, an associate in Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering at SEAS and co-first author of the paper.

One of the resulting projects is an inflatable shelter measuring 8 feet and 4 feet made of thick plastic film.

Shelter for people in need

“You can imagine these shelters being deployed as part of the emergency response in the disaster zone,” said David Melancon, a PhD student at SEAS and co-first author of the paper. “They can be stacked flat on a truck and you only need one pressure source to inflate them. Once they are inflated, you can remove the pressure source and move onto the next tent. ”

Image cedit: Benjamin Gorissen/David Melancon/Harvard SEAS

1 or 2 people can fold the inflatable shelter. such shelters can help people around the world during natural disasters and other unexpected events. The building blocks of these structures can be combined in various ways, so that any shape and size can be achieved. Scientists have built a number of other structures of many shapes.

This technology offers many uses

“We’ve unlocked an unprecedented design space of large-scale inflatable structures that can fold flat and maintain their deployed shape without the risk of catastrophic rupture,” said Chuck Hoberman, the Pierce Anderson Lecturer in Design Engineering at the Graduate School of Design and co-author of the paper. “By using inflatable, reversible actuation to achieve hard-walled structural enclosures, we see important applications, not only here on Earth, but potentially as habitats for lunar or Mars exploration.”

This project should continue to develop. It may become an inspiration to many companies and help people around the world to obtain emergency housing in the event of a disaster.

Source & credit:

Image cedit:
Benjamin Gorissen/David Melancon/Harvard SEAS