The origami kayak and 9 other great folding vehicles

CNN
Friday, October 11, 2013 - 9:15am

Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, is believed to date back as far as the 17th century. Traditionally done with a single sheet of paper, its elegant principles have come to influence package design, mathematics and -- more recently -- an unusual new folding kayak.

The Oru kayak is the brainchild of Californian designer Anton Willis. Made from a sheet of plastic (polyethelyne), the entire boat, including paddle, folds down to the size of a large suitcase. While it may not be practical to carry long distances, it can fit into the trunk of a car and be has been designed to be able to be stored in a home closet.

Willis says he was inspired by an article on "advances in the science of origami," which led him to begin sketching ideas for a folding kayak.

"I started working on this a few years ago and I moved into a studio apartment in San Francisco and had to put my kayak in storage. And at the same time I read this magazine article on origami and people doing new and amazing things with folding technologies and that just got me thinking about if it would be possible to actually build a kayak and fold it up just like a piece of paper," Willis says.

The Oru kayak is made from a double-layered plastic scored with permanently molded creases to allow it to easily fold away. Its single seam sits at the top of the boat and is sealed with watertight rubber gaskets to prevent leaks. Once unfolded, the Oru Kayak is 12-feet long, and about two-feet wide. When folded away it comes to a relatively compact 33 inches by 29 inches.

To gain enough money to get started, Willis began by mounting a crowd-funding campaign. The campaign was so successful that his funding target was met within the first day: "When we Kickstarted our campaign, our goal was to raise $80,000, but we managed to hit that goal in five and a half hours. It was a very magical day."

Yves Behar, Chief Creative Officer of the wearable technology company Jawbone, says "I think the kayak is a very ambitious project. I mean, imagine essentially taking a boat and folding it into a backpack ... You have all the dangers of the sea. People are putting themselves out into your kayak, so it's very risky."

But Behar says that the best test of a product's success is whether or not it sells: "I think the product works. It is selling, and it's comfortable (but) the challenge for me is: how big is the kayak market? How big is it as an industry?"

Other folding vehicles have met with differing levels of success. The Brompton folding bicycle has been popular with inner city commuters around the world since its invention in 1979. The folding Razor scooter enjoyed a period of booming success around the beginning of the millennium, but since then sales have diminished. The ICON folding airplane now hopes to "reinvent flying" with its modest scale and low price. And the MIT-backed Hiriko folding car was unveiled in March at the Geneva Motor Show, with production scheduled to begin later this year.

Good design, Behar says, is about ensuring that a product is in line with contemporary thinking and consumer demand: "The key to good design for me is to create products that are really in sync with 21st-century ideas, in sync with the notion that sustainability is something that is obtainable and non-expensive, in sync with the notion that people want to make things their own, to build them or enjoy them in their own way."

Like foldaway, perhaps.

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