Science Workshop
Bistable Reeled Composites:  The “RolaTube”

Very cool widget from British firm RTL Materials, who’ve figured out a trick for making composite tubes that are pre-stressed, like a tape measure, such that they want to roll up into a rigid round tube structure when unfurled from a flat, coiled state. Unlike a tape measure, however, these “bistable reeled composites” are also perfectly happy to hang out in their “reeled” state without springs, cases, or other mechanical constraints. Made of a soft-edged fabric composite, they can be stowed and deployed by hand, as Mike Judson of Altius Space Machines demonstrates in the embedded video. Man, that looks like fun! [via Core77]

14 thoughts on “Bistable Reeled Composites: The “RolaTube”

  1. Aren’t these just giant slap bracelets? We’ve had them since the 80’s, to which any child of the 80’s can attest.

  2. Know what would make this MUCH better? some type of zipper or other enclosure running the length of each side.

    1. I’ve read about something that uses that idea. It was a tower that had 3 rolls like a tape measure (or like the above tube) that zippered together to form the tower. I think they had it as a portable camera tower for border use.

  3. Can you imagine if a case of these fell to the ground? Pipes would be leaping left and right from the spill.

  4. Magicians have been using this trick for years. Ever wondered how they do the ‘pulling-a-long-wand-from-a-small-hat’ trick? This is how.

  5. 1) Slap bracelets are bistable as an entire structure – rolatubes are bistable locally, so can be used as actuators, and unrolled/re rolled.
    2) Zips, velcro? Yup. Also, since the matrix is (usually) thermoplastic you can stick a heat source after the unrolling (infra-red & microwave work well) and seal it into a tube as it unrolls. We’ve tested it to 1700 psi. (I work at Rolatube, btw.) Now that’s really cool. No more shipping vast amounts of empty air. Makes sense where cost of shipping pipe>>cost of the pipe itself
    3) Tent pole. Erm, yep. (Needs to be a pretty premium, expensive tent, and you’d better have an absolute need for it to pack up small.)
    4) Case falling to the ground? Lots of coils staying exactly where they are – that’s the point!

    So yes, it’s cool – and that’s without even pointing out you can embed optical fibres, cables, components in it.

  6. That’s neat, I guess, but certainly not new. That idea has been around since at least the late 50’s. Hell, I even came up a with a positive locking mechanism (kind of like a zipper) in the early 90’s as an intellectual exercise.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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