Origami (折り紙) literally means “to fold paper” (折り: fold, 紙: paper) in Japanese language. It is a form of art in Japan and in the world; actually it’s considered a science by many, a branch of mathematics. Besides, lately some people are searching different applications for it within the engineering world and everyday product design. For example, the structure of bottles that may be compressed easily is based on origami. Another example are the small indentations in some light aluminium cans that help make the structure stronger. By the way, we all implement origami techniques when folding a map or when we make a paper plane or boat.
For something to be considered origami, it can only be made out of a single piece of paper and it cannot be cut in any way, only folded. Usually, a squared piece of paper of a kind called washi is used.
All origami pieces can be achieved following only four basic rules. Following these four rules you can make any imaginable shape. In this video, Robert Lang explains how these four rules work and how you can develop mathematical models and computer software to create any shape from those four rules of origami:
Other practical example of what you can achieve with origami is the method developed by Japanese astrophisicist Miura for folding antennaes and solar panels on artificial satellites. First, he developed this generic pattern for folding which can also be used to fold a map:
Miura’s folding system
And from something so simple, thanks to such a “simple” geometrical pattern, JAXA is being able to build satellites taking advantage from the fact that they can carry “folded” equipment without complications thanks to the Miura method.
Satellite under construction.
Finished satellite. You can read more about the Miura method in this pdf.
There’s quite a lot of research going on within this field, specially in the search of practical uses, such as how to build camera lenses using origami or how to build telescope lenses. Other research works aim to improve security systems in case of collision, soundproof panels, isolation systems, architecture, car bodywork design, etc. If you have a minimum of interest in this subject, this is a good place to get you started in this art-science-engineering.
Cilinder that can be compressed.
Shoes designed following origami patterns.