The developable mechanisms can take on 3D shapes from flat surfaces.

Engineers have developed new technology that builds complex mechanisms into the exterior of a structure without taking up any actual space below the surface. This new class of mechanisms, called “developable mechanisms,” get their name from developable surfaces, or materials that can take on 3D shapes from flat conformations without tearing or stretching, like a sheet of paper or metal. They reside in a curved surface and can transform or morph when deployed to serve unique functions. When not in use, they can fold back into the surface of the structure seamlessly.

These new discoveries make it possible to build complex machines that integrate with surfaces to be very compact but can deploy and perform complex tasks. Making hyper-compact mechanisms is something increasingly important as manufacturers across medical, space, and military industries are constantly working to get more complex functionality in less space.

Applications include surgical instruments that can both cut materials and deploy lights simultaneously during minimally invasive surgery.

This new class of mechanical structures evolved from the researchers’ work on origami-based engineering and curved origami principles. Potential applications of developable mechanisms include surgical instruments that can both cut materials and deploy lights simultaneously during minimally invasive surgery; storage components that could deploy from the inner surface of an aircraft fuselage and be completely out of the way when not in use; and interplanetary rover wheels that could deploy claws for rock crawling.

Watch a video about the technology on Tech Briefs TV here. For more information, contact Todd Hollingshead at 801-422-8373.


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This article first appeared in the May, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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