The Countdown to Maker Faire Bay Area is On!


Bistable Reeled Composites: The “RolaTube”

Science Workshop
Bistable Reeled Composites:  The “RolaTube”
YouTube player

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. Dan E. says:

    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.

    1. James C says:

      That’s what I was thinking! I actually just ordered some of those for a 1992 party I’m hosting.

  2. Michael Kawamoto says:

    Now someone just needs to incorporate these into a tent. Seems like you could pack those much smaller than traditional tent poles.

  3. Rob says:

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

    1. Aaron Shaw says:

      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.

      1. daniel says:

        The website mentions using infra-red light to fuse the two parts together (permanent join)

  4. frankt says:

    That would make great ballscrew covers on cnc machines, rolling up pass the screw, rather than relying on a bellows arrangement.

  5. Craig says:

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

  6. Mark says:

    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.

    1. Daniel Kim says:

      . . . and now you need to watch out for the “enforcers” of the magicians’ guild.

  7. Stefan Kukula says:

    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.

  8. Daniel Kim says:

    I want to see James Bond (or Mission: Impossible) using these for . . . something.

  9. deadlydad says:

    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.

  10. Brian Salas says:

    How can I get my hands on this?

Comments are closed.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

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.

View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan
Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 30% off early bird ticket sales ends August 31st, 2023!

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Prices Increase in....