Origami and algorithms

Think of origami and most people think of insects, birds, and animals made by folding paper. Yet the art of paper folding finds numerous applications, especially in fields such as mathematics and engineering. How can folding paper save your life? The methods of origami are synonymous with modern algorithms. For example the origami algorithms used to fold bugs are the same as the ones used to fold air bags [1]. Designing airbags requires a great deal of experimentation and computer simulation. All simulations start with the airbag folded up into a small packet, and whilst flattening a real airbag is not difficult, simulating the flattening process is. The process of finding creases to flatten an airbag is no different than finding the creases that turn a flat sheet of paper into a flat shape.

In 1995, Japanese scientists used origami concepts to pack and deploy a solar power array in the research vessel called Space Flight Unit (SFU). On Earth, the solar array was folded into a compact parallelogram, and then in space, it was expanded into a solar sail. The method of folding the solar panels is called “Miura-ori”, in honor of Koryo Miura, a professor in Tokyo University, who developed the fold.

[1] Lang, R.J., Origami Design Secrets: Mathematical Methods for an Ancient Art, AK Peters, 2003.
[2] Cipra, B.A., “In the fold: Origami meets mathematics”, SIAM News, 34:4, 2001.


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