The ancient art of origami has inspired all kinds of modern technological endeavors, from drones to bridges to batteries and low-cost emergency housing. The latest project to join the fold comes from US-based engineers who have developed a deployable shelter that can be shipped on a standard military pallet, improving the quality of life for soldiers while cutting energy consumption in the process.

The team at the University of Notre Dame's Kinetic Structure Laboratory would regularly play around with paper models during their discussions, but one meeting in particular uncovered a promising idea. Undergraduate research associate Angelene Dascanio rested her cell phone on the tail fold of an origami model to hold it in place, leveraging the main section of paper into the air.

This seemingly insignificant event triggered something of a light bulb moment for lab director Dr. Ashley Thrall. What if rather than erecting four shelter walls as per traditional construction, they were able to lever the walls into the upright position while folding out the roof at the same time?

The result is an origami-inspired shelter that can be carried by plane, ship or truck on a regular military pallet and be put together by a few soldiers in less than an hour. And because the walls are rigid and thermally insulated, the team says they will cut the energy currently needed for heating and cooling typical canvas tents by 70 percent.

By reducing energy demands in the field, the researchers say the shelter would lessen the need for refuelling missions, saving money and lives in the process. The team is now working with mechanical and electrical engineers to build control systems to further cut energy consumption. It is hoped that the shelter will also find applications in emergency and disaster relief scenarios.

You can hear from the researchers in the video below.

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