Senior Thesis: Self-Folding Structure Could Slash Energy Use in buildings
Princeton student Denisa Buzatu's vision for an environmentally sustainable building is a sort of shape-shifting origami façade. For her senior thesis, Buzatu, a civil and environmental engineering major, is designing and prototyping a structure that shades the façade of a building by folding and adapting its shape in response to sunlight.
Her design takes advantage of a type of wire that contracts when current is applied to it and yet "remembers" and returns to its original shape. These wires make up the edges of eight triangular faces, which are combined to form a seamless surface, and can be activated individually or in combination by a microcontroller to fold the surface in myriad ways.
"It's like electrical origami," said Buzatu. While the overall shape of the structure is immensely flexible, the individual surfaces are rigid and can be composed of any material, such as acrylic or solar panels.
For example the surface could integrate solar panels as well as integrated sensors that monitor the amount of sunlight hitting the building. The modules could flatten automatically during sunny periods to simultaneously collect energy and shade the building, then use part of the collected energy to fold away when cloudy.
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