Developable Mechanisms Graphic
Potential applications of developable mechanisms include surgical instruments that can both cut materials and deploy lights simultaneously during minimally invasive surgery. (Credit: BYU)

A new technology allows engineers to build complex mechanisms into the exterior of a structure without taking up any actual space below the surface. The new class is called developable mechanisms. In the medical device industry, potential applications include surgical instruments that can both cut materials and deploy lights simultaneously during minimally invasive surgery.

Making hyper-compact mechanisms is something increasingly important as manufacturers across medical and other industries are constantly working to get more complex functionality in less space. “These new discoveries make it possible to build complex machines that integrate with surfaces to be very compact, but can deploy and do complex tasks,” says researcher Larry Howell, professor of mechanical engineering at BYU. “It opens up a whole new world of potential devices that have more functions but are still very compact.”

The new class of mechanisms get their name from developable surfaces, or materials that can take on 3D shapes from flat conformations without tearing or stretching. They reside in a curved surface (like, say, the arms of Iron Man’s suit) 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.

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