Origami Shield Offers Bulletproof Protection

Aluminium and layered Kevlar used to create improved public safety product.
13 March, 2017
Brigham Young University in the United States has turned to the ancient Japanese art of origami in the materials research lab more than once.
Yet their most recent engineering feat, the design of a ballistics barrier whose folds make it stronger and more lightweight than past models, definitely solves a more down-to-earth problem than previous BYU origami solutions designed for the space industry.

What they've created this time is a portable panel, made from aluminium with 12 layers of the synthetic DuPont™ Kevlar® fiber commonly used in protective gear. The panel weighs just 25 kilograms – almost half as much as comparable steel-based products – and folds up easily for storage and portability. Best of all, it takes just five seconds to deploy and provide cover for law enforcement personnel under fire.
The BYU researchers said they listened to public safety professionals and discovered that the most commonly used protective gear for ballistic threats hadn't really changed much since the medieval era, and were based on the same kind of body armor and shielding panels known across the centuries.

"We worked with a federal special agent to understand what their needs were, as well as SWAT teams, police officers and law enforcement, and found that the current solutions are often too heavy and not as portable as they would like," said Larry Howell, professor of mechanical engineering at BYU. "We wanted to create something that was compact, portable, lightweight and worked really well to protect them."
Image: Slash Gear
Since the BYU facilities have been a center for exploring modern iterations of origami design, the team naturally turned to the strength and versatility of the folds they know. They used a Yoshimura origami crease pattern that when deployed, will expand around an officer and provide protection on the side as well as the front. The tessellations of the Yoshimura pattern delivered an extremely stiff protective barrier that successfully stopped bullets from 9 mm, .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum pistols.
Image: KUTV
"Those are significant handguns with power," Howell explained. "We suspected that something as large as a .44 Magnum would actually tip it over, but that didn't happen. The barrier is very stable, even with large bullets hitting it."

Origami inspires the research with insights unavailable through traditional engineering, and advantages that include increased precision, decreased cost and reduced weight. Yet going from origami paper to other materials can be challenging, the BYU team said. The shield has a strong aluminium core, but one problem is that Kevlar can be damaged by water, sunlight and other environmental factors, and as a synthetic fabric it can fray. The BYU team said it has reinforced that material in the origami shield too.

The product is designed for police officers, but its origami design – with the aluminium's light weight and the simple folding and set-up techniques – may make it an excellent choice in other situations too. Examples include scenarios where a citizen or colleague is wounded and can't yet be moved because of an active shooter situation, or an emergency tool in schools to protect children behind a ballistic-panel barrier. Courtrooms, clinics, and public spaces like malls or banks that are at higher risk of encountering gun violence are also possible candidates for owning origami shields that can be set up in just seconds.
One reason that makes sense if because unlike traditional bulletproof vests or panels, the BYU shield can protect more than one person at a time. For now, the product prototype remains under development.
Banner image: BYU