Made from thermoplastic composites, RolaTubes can curl up across two axes, rather like a tape measure that either rolls up inside of its case or bends width-wise to maintain structure when deployed. But their manufacturer, UK-based RTL Materials, has done the tape measure one better by using materials science to precisely calibrate their composite material:
[Conventional] metal tapes have to be very thin in order to roll up. This means that even using the best of metals they will be fragile and relatively weak. Also, as with any wound spring, the coiled tube stores a large amount of energy. So the coil has to have a mechanism to prevent it uncoiling and allow it to be easily extended and retracted.
By manipulating two of the basic characteristics of [the] materials...[we] get around these limits in the following ways:
- They can be much thicker for a given diameter or size of coil and still be coiled without breaking. Instead of being fragile and weak in comparison to an ordinary tube they can be strong and difficult to damage;
- They are as stable in the coiled form as when extended. Instead of needing relatively clumsy mechanisms they can be rolled and left that way with no need for springs, cases or drums to extend and retract them easily;
- They are much easier to roll. The manipulation of the material's characteristics means that the forces needed to roll it are much less than those of similar metal structure of the same strength. Structural tubes can easily be rolled and extended by hand and motor drives can be light and simple.
Cool stuff, no? And as you can see on the RolaTube website have applicability in the Civil, Aerospace, Defense, and Energy fields.