A New Smart-Bridge Inspired by the Japanese Art of Origami

September 20, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

The MB bridge is assembled over the Hongo River

Structural engineers have designed the world’s fastest, largest, and lightest expanding temporary bridge to rapidly respond to natural disasters.

Engineers at Hiroshima University just tested the design of a bridge that could revolutionize the way emergency response teams intervene during natural disasters and their aftermaths. The project was led by Dr. Ichiro Ario, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Engineering at Hiroshima University.

The scissor-like bridge, Mobile Bridge® Version 4.0 (MB4.0), demonstrated its practicality during its first construction test over the Hongo River in Fukuyama City. The bridge was set up without any foundation work by only a few people, and a vehicle could safely travel across it without any problems.

The idea for MB4.0 came from the goal to efficiently and rapidly provide emergency care in response to natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and landslides. They can occur anywhere in the world, and aren’t very easy to predict. In the case that infrastructures collapse, such as bridges, tunnels, and roads, the bridge provides a rapid response to rescue survivors and deliver medical care to the injured.

The scissor-like mechanism makes the bridge foldable and deployable which allows for easy transportation and efficient construction. The novel and patented design offers unmatchable performance by the older block assembly approach for bridges. To be transported from place to place, all that the compact bridge system requires is a car trailer.

Dr. Ario stressed the concept that rescue technology should have a low level of complexity but a high degree of resilience. This would enable its deployment by a wider range of people rather than exclusively trained professionals because, in certain situations, an emergency bridge will be needed when no structural engineers are nearby.

Perhaps the most interesting factor that went into creating MB4.0 is that the innovative design was inspired by Origami, the traditional Japanese paper craft. The study of Origami has also attracted the attention of researchers in space development and other fields. It’s inspiring engineers to design materials and structures that overcome the traditional design constraints with bends, stretches, folds, and curves. The unconventional and artistic approach at science and engineering renders projects and systems with remarkable characteristics and features.

MB4.0’s scissor-like structure forms an “X” shapes along the side of the bridge, enabling expansion and contraction while retaining strength. This new design has quickly placed itself as the world’s fastest, largest, strongest, and lightest expanding temporary bridge.

As the setup process doesn’t require any foundation construction or crane operations, the actual extension time of the bridge only takes around five minutes. During time-sensitive situations following a natural disaster, it’s crucial to intervene rapidly to save lives and prevent as much further damage as possible before a second-phase of the disaster can strike.

In Dr. Ario’s press release of the test results at a symposium of the Japan Society of Civil Engineers on June 23, 2015, he stated, “From this test of a new bridge concept, the next generation of bridge technology starts on a new stage in the field of bridge engineering.” He vowed to further promote the development of MB4.0 in the future, and finished by ensuring that, “Making MB stronger, longer, lighter, more compact, and quicker to set up will promote the development of infrastructure construction technology in general.”


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