Inflatable structures are flat and foldable when empty and both lightweight and stiff when pressurized and deployed. They are easy to manufacture by fusing 2 inextensible sheets together along a defined pattern of lines. However, the prediction of their deployed shape remains a mathematical challenge, which results from the coupling of geometrical constraints and the strongly nonlinear and asymmetric mechanical properties of their composing material: thin sheets are very stiff on extensional loads, while they easily shrink by buckling or wrinkling when compressed. We discuss the outline shape, local cross-section, and state of stress of any curvilinear open path. We provide a reverse model to design any desired curved 2-dimensional shape from initially flat tubes.
See our article in PNAS and the Supplementary Information.