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Project Overview

This project is a continuation of the spring Hyundai research progress, where we envisioned an urban system composed of mobile services that move to areas of demand to support and be integrated into local facilities and residential areas. 
In this project, we looked deeper into a specific aspect of this mobile urban system and investigated ways it could be materialized.


Hyundai-Sponsored Future Urban Design

Summer 2021

Pneumatic Metamorphosis

As you can see in the picture on the right, what we have proposed in the spring is a system of flexible mobile modules that house different services. They would reside in a place for a temporary period of time and move to areas of higher demand and interact with the local communities.
This system requires service modules to have fast deployment on site , lightweight construction, and flexible scaling in space.

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We decided to investigate further into the design of these mobile modules. The four major criteria we set up are the following:



Flexible Motor Control System Of Caterpillars

To explore the design of mobile service modules, we decided to go back to nature and research how caterpillar's motor control system allows them to perform lightweight and flexible movements.
Our research started with examining the mechanism and spatial relations of the caterpillar's anatomy during locomotion. We then progressed to developing a hydraulic system that allows flexible compression and expansion. In the last stage, we applied the principles from the system into the design of modules.

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Hydrostatic Skeleton: The caterpillar's digestive system makes up the majority of its body. Because they do not have any bones in their body, caterpillars move by squeezing muscles in sequence in an undulating wave motion. By doing so, they are controlling the tension of their muscle, creating contraction and expansion in the movement.


Scientists observing the caterpillar through x-ray learned that when caterpillars walk, their guts move first, with the rest of the bodies following behind in a rippling motion. This allows them to "burrow, climb, and navigate through complex terrains."

Imitating the behavior of caterpillar locomotion

To further understand the spatial relationship of caterpillar's anatomy as well as its motor control mechanism, I attempted to simulate its principles through simple initial models.

We started by visualizing the interior and exterior movement of caterpillar. In this paper model, the compression of the core brings forward the position of the skin through rubber bands placed at different points of the body.

Next, we need to bring air into the equation. Through experimenting, we found that by placing a rigid structure inside a lightweight membrane, we can dictate how the membrane moves as air is being extracted from the enclosure.

Now that we have investigated the compression of the gut and how air can be used as a driving force for motion, we need to tackle the problem of how these mechanisms are connected to the skin and the rest of the caterpillar body.

Here we reimagined the muscles that connects the internal organs to the skin of the caterpillar. This in turn achieves a rippling effect to its body.

So far our models create one directional movements, but a caterpillar can move in any directions. We need to find a lightweight solution to add multi-directional movements to our models.
In the example on the left, mechanical interventions are added to inflatable compartments in the attempt of creating multi-directional movements. Once air is pumped into the compartments, the mechanism is triggered and closes up.

Finally, we were able to create a complete system that simplifies the mechanisms within a caterpillar’s body and achieves flexible and multi-directional movements through lightweight structure and materials. 
In the center of the model, we have a compression mechanism that mimics the gut of the caterpillar. On the sides of the model, we have membranes with air chambers that serves as the compressible skin of the caterpillar, and what connects them are the flexible structure that act as the muscle of the caterpillar

Here, air is being pumped into the model’s outer membrane, this allows the mechanism to move its body in all directions in addition to propelling itself forward and backwards.


Applying Hydraulic Mechanism Into Module Design

After deriving compressible mechanisms from the locomotive principles of caterpillars, we decided to incorporate this lightweight and flexible construction into the design of mobile service modules.

The models you see here are representations of what a space might look like with the construction inspired by the caterpillar's muscle contractions. The walls of the module is composed of a thin plastic membrane enclosing a semi-rigid structure. Once air is being extracted from the enclosure, the module automatically compresses down to less than 1/3 of its size.

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Social Space
Reimagine This Structure Into A Social Space

Now that we have established the overall operation of the modules' compression and expansion through the hydraulic mechanisms, we can re-examine them as a group of social architectures and thus raising questions on how these modules will interact with local residents.

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A model that illustrates how the  different service modules could be interconnected in forming a social space. They can be  arranged in a number of ways and are interconnected through these flexible corridor like structures.

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 Imagine a mobile hospital unit that moves to neighborhoods of needs and gather for supplies and maintenance. Our soft design allow these mobile services to be modular, expandable, and lightweight for transport. Once they arrived on site they are fast and easy to set up with air based deployment. In addition, they have structural elements that can change shape and move in various directions, which makes them adaptable to different environments.

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The experience we create would be a soft and organic environment that interact with lights and natural elements, allowing people to experience the duality of interior and exterior of the space.  Therefore, not only is our service design flexible and adaptive to different cities, so are the our physical structural design that houses these services, which are soft to touch and reactive to the local landscape.

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