BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

An MIT pro­fes­sor of com­puter sci­ence and an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in civil en­gi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of Tokyo have joined forces to come up with a bet­ter way of… mak­ing pa­per rab­bits. Or rather, they have cre­ated an al­go­rithm that en­ables the cre­ation of any 3D shape from a sin­gle sheet of a given ma­te­rial.

MIT’s Prof Erik De­maine has pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence in this area: his 1999 PhD th­e­sis de­scribed the same thing. The dif­fer­ence, though, is that his pre­vi­ous al­go­rithm es­sen­tially in­volved tak­ing a long, thin strip of pa­per or other ma­te­rial and winding it into the de­sired shape. This tends to leave you with lots of seams in the fin­ished 3D shape, and is in­ef­fi­cient in terms of the amount of pa­per (or other ma­te­rial) re­quired. The new al­go­rithm, on the other hand, pre­serves the bound­aries of the orig­i­nal sheet of pa­per, and min­imises the num­ber of seams. “It’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent strat­egy for think­ing about how to make a poly­he­dron,” said De­maine.

If you’ve ever un­folded a pa­per cup from the wa­ter cooler, and ended up with a cir­cu­lar piece of pa­per, that’s the per­fect ex­am­ple of how the new al­go­rithm works – the outer edge of the cir­cle ends up as the rim of the cup. De­maine’s old method, how­ever, would have cre­ated a non­wa­ter­tight cup shape by winding a thin strip of pa­per into a coil.

The tech­nique could have prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions in man­u­fac­tur­ing, par­tic­u­larly in ar­eas such as de­sign­ing and build­ing space­craft, where ma­te­ri­als ef­fi­ciency is of para­mount im­por­tance.

The new origami al­go­rithm can make any shape from a sin­gle sheet of ma­te­rial

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