Inspired by the design of a collapsible, spherical, children's toy, engineers at MIT and Harvard have devised not only a better designed toy--without the use of gears or hinges--but a new class of 3D structure in the process. Dubbed the 'buckliball', this hollow rubber sphere has 24 carefully spaced dimples that allow the structure to elegantly collapse when air is sucked out of it. But the awesome part of this design is that the sphere can revert back to its original exploded state without a degradation in structural integrity. From MIT news's report on the discovery:
The researchers named their new structure for its use of buckling and its resemblance to buckyballs, spherical all-carbon molecules whose name was inspired by the geodesic domes created by architect-inventor Buckminster Fuller. The buckliball is the first morphable structure to incorporate buckling as a desirable engineering design element. The buckling process induces folding in portions of the sphere — similar to the way paper folds in origami — so the researchers place their buckliball in a larger framework of buckling-induced origami they call “buckligami.”
Controlled and reversible buckling in morphable structures could lead to the development of large buildings with collapsible walls or better robotic hinges. Basically, we're one step closer to Transformers being a reality.