Fold your toaster into a pocket-square

By Leah Bjornson,
Special to The Post

Struggling with less square footage? Smaller rooms and counter space?
How about buying chairs that can fold into the size of a laptop?
Or a cabinet that can be stored underneath your bed?
A new algorithm developed by recent SFU PhD graduand, Honghua Li, may be the key to making the most of Vancouver homeowners’ shrinking square footage.
By considering an object’s “foldabilization,” Li’s algorithm analyses how a piece of furniture can be changed to take up as little space as possible and with as little modification as possible. In some simulations on common household furniture items, the algorithm demonstrated space-saving ratios of up to 88.9 per cent. 
Although the original research has mainly focused on furniture, this tool may assist designers looking to tap into an already expanding market of space-saving technology and micro packaging.
“Our hope is that it will help designers do what are actually pretty complex and tedious calculations fast and easily so they can get on to the creative aspects of their work,” Li told SFU News.
Beyond use by established companies, the algorithm could also allow amateur designers who may not have design expertise to access the new technology to create real-world objects. This is especially pertinent considering the rise in 3D printing over the last few years, which allows individuals to create their own objects from the safety of their homes and without need for access to large manufacturers.
The researchers have already printed a dining table, a work desk and a bed using their algorithm and a 3D printer.
The algorithm has not yet been able to create plans for objects with irregular lines or shapes with extremely sophisticated structures.
“It still needs some modifications before it can be applied but I am really excited about what it is going to do for the field of 3D printing when it’s ready,” Li explained.
Li originally came up with the idea for his algorithm during a lunch break with two of his supervisors at SFU. While waiting for their food at a local restaurant on Burnaby campus, Li says the three of them began playing with the glasses on the table, attempting to stack them and discussing why some stacked more easily than others.
From that point, Li began designing an algorithm that would automatically calculate how to best design an object so that it takes up as little room as possible. It also factors in an object’s potential for folding or stacking.
Having finished his PhD, Li plans to finalize the algorithm while working for a computer-graphic start-up company based out of Changsha, China.

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