Scientists at MIT Media Lab have created “aeroMorph” – a technology that transforms paper into 3D shapes, such as beautiful paper cranes.

Origami, the ancient Japanese craft of paper folding (from the Japanese 折り “ori” meaning “to fold” and 紙 “kami” meaning “paper”) has a long and distinguished history. Dating back to the Edo period (as early as the 1600s), Origami transforms a flat sheet of paper into a finished sculpture by folding alone.

Now, Tangible Media Group, a group of scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) School of Architecture and Planning’s Media Lab have created a “self-folding origami”.

High-Tech Paper Folding

As well as being an incredible piece of paper magic, the MIT scientists believe the developments might have wider applications – such as creating bespoke packaging cushions, or creating morphable wearables.

The “aeroMorph” technology uses air to bring paper to life. The shapes are designed in a software program, where they can be tested using a computer simulation of how the shape would respond when inflated.

The patterns for the shapes are then exported to a heat-sealing machine – a custom heat-sealing head that is mounted on standard 3-axis CNC machine – in order to precisely fabricate the design. The machine creates precise air pockets within the material – effectively “programming” the material to fold into 3D paper shapes.

Multiple Possible Uses

The technology has the potential to greatly simplify how inflatable structures are manufactured.

“The biggest advance we see in this project is the precise control of folding – including the direction and angle – with common materials that a designer can find, like paper, fabric or plastic,” Jifei Ou from the Tangible Media Group told online magazine Dezeen. “It does not require a complicated molding and casting process to create inflatables, and therefore designs can be easily tried out”.

The promotional video for the material shows how impressively strong the inflated paper structures can be.

Exciting Achievements

The creators – Jifei Ou, Melina Skouras, Nikolaos Vlavianos, Felix Heibeck, Chin-Yi Cheng, Jannik Peters, and Hiroshi Ishii – achieved an Honorable Mention at the ACM User Interface Software & Technology Symposium 2016 in Tokyo.

Ou says: “We envision this technology could be used for designing interactive wearables, toys, and in the packaging industry.