The traditional Japanese art of origami may have originated using paper, but now, the intricate folds have inspired what scientists claim to be “the world’s fastest, largest, strongest, and lightest expanding temporary bridge.” Dr. Ichiro Ario, an assistant professor at Hiroshima University’s Institute of Engineering, led the team that developed the contractable and expandable bridge, which is being heralded as a revolutionary and potentially life-saving feat of engineering. Known as the Mobile Bridge Version 4.0 (MB4.0), the bridge’s accordion-like design allows for compact storage that makes it a breeze to put away when not in use. But when disaster strikes, the MB4.0 is capable of sustaining the weight of a vehicle fully across its surface.
The bridge was demoed for the first time late last month, when the MB4.0 was successfully set up to allow several cars to cross the Hongo River in Fukuyama City. While other makeshift bridges are either unstable or take too long to set up, this new origami-derived structure can be utilized within an hour, “with no foundation construction or cranes being required.” In terms of actually expanding across an impasse or gap, the total set-up time is actually only five minutes, which means that in moments of great need, the MB4.0 really comes in handy.
Dr. Paolo Beccarelli, assistant professor of architectural structures at the University of Nottingham, told the BBC, “A crucial point is how to expand a portable bridge. Usually a crane and a team of technicians is needed, but not in this case.” Given the extreme user-friendliness of the MB4.0 design, engineers are hopeful that the structure could have several applications across a variety of scenarios.
When fully folded for storage, the bridge is small enough to be moved about in a car trailer, making it perfectly mobile and versatile. Still, Ario and his team are looking for ways to make the bridge stronger, longer, lighter, and more compact still, to make it even more useful and accessible. So the next time you see a paper crane, consider the multitudes of possibilities that the same folding techniques may have in other situations.