A new 4D technology is being used to create a multiplex of shapes, which make up a self-folding boxes and other structures.
The team of researchers behind the self-folding structure used smart shape-memory polymers, which have the ability to change shape when heat is applied. This means that the 3D object can change shape in a controlled sequence over time.
When heated each part of the flat-pack box responds at a different rate to change its shape. By carefully timing these changes, 3D objects can be programmed to self-assemble which can create objects such as self-folding boxes.
This technology can be used to create a variety of 3D structures that fold themselves in a specific sequence. It isn’t just heat that components could respond to, moisture and light could also be used to precisely time the construction of these structures, such as deployable medical services, robots, toys and a huge range of other structures.
Previous efforts to create self-folding objects using heat had required a significant amount of control over the heat being produced, in order to get the timing right. To make this work, researchers turned their approach round and used a spatially uniform temperature, which is easier to apply and exploit the ability of different materials, to internally control their rate of shape and change, through their molecular design.
The approach was demonstrated by the team using a series of flat-sheet examples, which had been configured to bend and lock, to form shapes and structures, such as a 3D box, complete with interlocking flaps.
It is thought that there could be a broad range of applications for this technology. An example that the researchers gave, is that an unpiloted aircraft could change shape from one designed for a cruising to another designed for a dive. Another great use for this technology would be that objects could be flatted or formed into a roll, so that they could sent through the post a lot easier than some of the awkward shaped parcels, courier services have to deal with on a daily basis.