By Molly Lachance and Brianna Hodges, Air Force Office of Scientific Research
A small basic research investment by the Air Force Research Laboratory, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, has created a community of origami researchers who in six short years have transitioned to working on applied technologies for the Air Force.
The story begins in 2012 when AFRL’s Air Force Office of Scientific Research partnered with NSF to develop the Origami Design for Integration of Self-assembling Systems for Engineering Innovation program. Over the years, NSF and AFOSR have invested nearly $28M in this program with the goal of creating the mathematical and material foundation for self-folding origami systems and commercializing the concepts. The origami research community received a big boost when Congress decided to include a $5 million congressional interest item in the fiscal year 2017 budget and made plans for a $4.8 million CII in fiscal year 2018.
AFOSR issued the funding opportunity announcement for the first CII and a team from Georgia Institute of Technology and Florida International University won in open competition. Concurrently, AFRL began taking notice of origami basic research as a promising concept for transition to Air Force applications and provided an additional $20 million of funding to a number of small teams around the lab. AFOSR stayed in the mix by managing that investment and creating a venue for university and AFRL researchers to collaborate and share knowledge.
Now six years after its initial investment, AFRL researchers are developing origami antennas deployable in space. This type of technology requires a multidisciplinary approach, leveraging the knowledge of original and new university partners as well as the expertise of AFRL experts from the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Aerospace Systems Directorate, Sensors Directorate, and Space Vehicles Directorate.
“We’re interested in really compelling scientific and engineering challenges that can lead to applications in the future,” said Ken Goretta, AFOSR program officer. “Compelling science and Air Force relevance drive us to invest, and origami antennas have that.”
This community met on September 13 for a workshop on origami antennas and electromagnetics and September 14 for a kick-off meeting for the new Center for Physically Reconfigurable and Deployable Multifunctional Antennas located at Florida International University.
The goal of the center, which celebrated its grand opening with a ribbon cutting September 15, is to develop innovative and advanced origami-based antenna technologies for next-generation Air Force and Department of Defense system.
“We want to use the center as an opportunity to create and train a diverse workforce with state of the art training and antenna programs for our nation and create a pipeline for very well trained engineers that they can go in work in the government” said Dr. Stavros Georgakopoulos, TAC Center Director and Inventor, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at FIU.
Georgakopoulos expresses he never imagined after being funded initially that his grant co-funded by AFOSR would be so transformative for his career. “The Air Force Research Lab have a very strong presence. We are going to collaborate and we are going to use some of their expertise and we are going to do more interdisciplinary type of work. So we are very excited.”
For more information about the history and intent of project as well as its significance to Air force and the Department of Defense, visit https://tac.fiu.edu/.
This story is an example of how AFRL creates asymmetric S&T advantage for the Air Force by making small strategic investments that create communities and conversations with far reaching scientific impact.