The U.S. military spends a lot of money transporting fuel around the world and it puts a lot of troops in harm’s way doing it. It therefore has every incentive to invest in more energy-efficient equipment.
With this in mind, Ashley Thrall and her team at Notre Dame have developed this foldable, highly deployable shelter. Inspired by the Japanese art of origami, it’s designed to be flat-packed, stuck on a standard airlift pallet and to go where it’s needed. Thrall, who leads the university’s Kinetic Structures Laboratory, says you can assemble it in about an hour.
“Origami is a great art if you want to fold a rigid-walled shelter into a smaller compact form,” she says. “We’re trying to mimic the folding we’re seeing in paper at a full size.”
The walls are made of sandwich-boards with a thick rigid material (like fiber glass) on the outside and a softer lightweight material (a foam) inside. The idea is to have a hard wall, because it offers better insulation, but without the weight implications that would make transport more difficult. In tests in Chicago, comparing the shelter with a standard canvas structure, Thrall’s concept reduced heat energy demand by 70%.
“It’s better to have it rigid wall, meaning it has some rigid thickness, but the trick is that you can fold it down small and you can transport wherever it needs to be,” she says.
The shelter is designed to be “person-portable” and comes with an innovative lever assembly system. Once you have the top of the package on the ground in front of you, you place three prongs in the front piece and pull it upright. From behind, two walls release backwards, which in turn releases a third piece behind that which flips forwards, becoming the roof. The result is a three-sided structure in seconds.
Thrall’s team is still researching how to fix the shelter to the ground and doing some other fine-tuning. It says several manufacturers could be interested in licensing the idea though nothing is concrete at the moment.
We covered these origami-inspired tiny houses before, and have featured several deployable military and disaster shelters, including here, here, and here. It’s clearly an idea that’s attracting a lot of interest, but we’ll have to wait to see how these shelters work in action.