A group of students from the Masters of Architecture Options Studio at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has designed a structure that assembles itself in mid-air and can be dropped into disaster zones.

“This project targets construction scenarios where it is difficult to build, hard to get people, materials or equipment, time consuming, energy intensive, expensive, or dangerous,” MIT explained. “Structures could be dropped from a plane or helicopter and self-assemble as they float down to the earth for disaster relief, military applications or other extreme construction scenarios.”

The prototype structure, dubbed “Fast, Cheap and Out of the Box,” relies on a fiberglass hoop that can fold into two smaller rings similar to pop-up tents. This design leaves a lot of potential energy available to help the structure expand upon release. Thanks to the fixed joint structure, the pop-up can automatically move back into its original form, too.

Throughout the semester, the students designed, prototyped, tested and finally fabricated the various elements to make the pop-up structure from fiberglass; and then to the folding sequence, self-deployment and parachutes.

At Autodesk’s BUILD Space in Boston, the students built many prototypes and thoroughly tested their successes/failure by dropping them from various heights. The fiberglass spline geometry was designed through small wire models and then successively larger fiberglass models to ensure the ease of folding as well as the quick-release of the pop-up structure without tangling.

The parachutes were developed both digitally and through physical prototypes, ultimately being drop-tested to ensure they successful landing. MIT says the parachute was used to provide the activation force to initiate the pop-up process, as well as to slow the descent to the ground and ultimately provide a safe landing. A number of parachute geometries were explored to provide as much lifting force as possible while accounting for the vertical and horizontal wind conditions.

The final test was conducted with a 100-foot crane on MIT’s Briggs field. The crane was on-site throughout the day and many drop-tests were conducted to explore the folding process, the parachute design and the release mechanism. All of these factors could either hinder or promote the success pop-up and graceful descent of the structure.

To watch the drop, click on the video below: