The idea combines Miura-ori folding origami technique, which is the technique of folding sheets into compact parallelograms to form a geometry that can open and close rapidly, and structural engineering together. This idea can potentially revolutionize the entire structural design process. Their research consists of interlocking folded zigzag sheets of material to form long tubes. Visually, it can be represented by a single piece of long strip of paper, folded in zigzag crease pattern, and then interlocked to another piece, that is also similarly folded, to form a long tube.
When assembled, the long tube geometry provides immense stiffness. With the sheets both resisting in tension AND compression, its resistance to bending moment and torsion effects is two times its original magnitude. If this tubular geometry is used as a structural member, there is no need for additional strengthening and no need to increase steel member sizes for strength.
Flexibility is what this geometry is also good at. The tubes can be folded flat and expanded easily to its rigid tube form again. For structural engineering, that means flexible packaging for easy delivery and storage. This flexibility allows for quick and fast delivery of construction during rebuilding of cities and infrastructures after natural disasters. Moreover, room functions can change within the structure, since the zigzag angle of the tube and the interlocking distances can be reconfigure. The properties can also change to obtain different stiffness and flexible levels.
Sure, there are a lot of practical applications. However, we have to be realistic. What about the constructability of the structure? How will the tubes be connected? Fillet welds? What about wind loads? Wind loads are normally applied perpendicularly to the face of the structure. But what about wind loads acted onto the angles, where wind uplift might occur? Also, there are often drops in framing plans to accommodate for different room uses; will these zippered tubes be cranked differently than regular I-beams? I am sure these are just minor questions, but if we solve these (and many more I am sure!); zippered tubes are definitely going to become a structural revolution!