BYU’s new origami shield may save law enforcement officers’ lives

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Law enforcement may soon have better protection, thanks to BYU engineers and the ancient Japanese art of paper folding.

BYU engineers developed a portable shield used to create a safe line of cover for officers in the field.

The shield, made from 12 layers of kevlar weave, was designed using the Yoshimura origami style. The Yoshimura origami style is a symmetrical design folded to make the origami look rounded. This design offers more coverage than standard law enforcement equipment.

“One of the things the federal agents mentioned was that current shields are flat and only cover the front,” said BYU mechanical engineering professor Terri Bateman, who worked on the project. “And they said it would be better if it had a curve — if it curved around you.”

Bateman said the BYU Compliant Mechanisms Research Group completed the project with a grant of $2 million from the National Science Foundation. The group also used research from past BYU teams.

The origami shield is easily compacted, can be placed in an officer’s car and only weighs about 50 pounds. This may make the equipment practical for officers in the field.

The shield took about nine months to develop, from the creation of the concept to its finished prototype, according to Bateman.

Associate dean of the Department of Mechanical Engineering Larry L. Howell guided the team and helped find the project funds.

Origami designs may be used for medical equipment as well as space exploration in the future, according to Howell.

Howell said he is impressed by the work of the students and accredited their involvement to how quickly the shield was finished.

“The students have done great,” Howell said. “They have done everything that made it possible to get a successful prototype and test it. So its been a great project for students.”

BYU engineering student Alex Avila was one of the seven students that worked on the shield. He helped choose the concept of a kevlar barrier and find how to make the barrier stand on its own.

Avila said the most interesting part of the project was choosing the shield’s origami style.

The team tested the prototype with the help of federal agents. The barrier repelled 9mm, 357 magnum and 44 magnum bullets. The federal agents were impressed with the shield’s design and potential applications, according to Howell. A video showing the fire range test of the shield can be watched here.

The team members said they hope the shield is mass produced in order to help save lives.

Avila said he is proud of his team’s work on the shield and said this project is different from others he has worked on.

“Sometimes as an engineer, you build something you don’t believe in,”  Avila said. “This, I think, has potential to actually make a difference.”

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