Creating a Foldable, Origami-Inspired Kayak

Sometimes, it’s not necessity that’s the mother of invention, but a small apartment. In 2008, architect Anton Willis moved from rural California to San Francisco. There wasn’t room for his fiberglass kayak, and he had no car to lug it around, so into storage it went. But he just read an article in the New Yorker recently about origami, and it gave him an idea: What if he could create a lightweight kayak that could be folded up and stashed away?

Spoiler alert: He did it. Willis launched Oru Kayak (Oru is Japanese for “to fold”) in 2012 with a successful Kickstarter campaign (his goal was $80,000; the campaign raised $443,806). This week, the company announced its new model, the Oru Bay+, which has a number of upgrades on the original kayak that make it “a bit more comfortable, easier to put together, more convenient,” Willis says. We asked him to walk us through how he created his awesome origami kayak.


Willis had done origami as a kid, not as an adult. “There was a bit of a learning curve,” he says. For inspiration, he looked not to traditional origami animals or designs, but to “some artists who had done things with fluid, organic curved shapes that you don’t normally think of when you think of origami that can be useful if you’re designing something like a kayak that needs to be curved and streamlined,” he says.

He started with sketches, then began folding up paper models—“hundreds of them,” he says—before moving to cardboard and then to full-sized plastic prototypes. No 3D modeling or CAD software here. “I did pretty much work on full-scale prototypes from the beginning,” he says. “It wasn’t just like I designed paper models until it was a perfect kayak form and only then turned it into plastic. It took a while to figure out a way to accurately make a scale model that would behave the same way.”


When he had his first prototype made, Willis took it out to Berkeley’s Aquatic Park—which he says is “stagnant, and pretty awful”—to test it out. Things did not go well. “I paddled it for 30 seconds and then it started sinking,” he says. “Nothing malfunctioned, it just wasn’t a big enough piece of plastic to support my weight. It was made from a 4x8 sheet of Coroplast from a sign shop and that turned out not to be big enough.” (Willis also notes that after that initial disastrous run, “I started testing it in cleaner places.”)

Willis made 24 prototypes in all; he says it was about five years between when he first got the idea and started Oru, but that halfway through there were functional kayaks—they just weren’t ready for manufacturing. “It was a fair challenge to get a big enough piece of material to work with since it isn’t a stock size and I wasn’t ordering thousands of pieces,” he says, “which is usually what you have to do if you’re trying to get custom material sizes in anything.”

But he figured it out: These days, every kayak starts as “a single sheet of flat material, about 5 by 13 feet,” he says. “Folding is done in a factory. It’s die-cut—it’s like a huge cookie cutter, basically. There’s a lot of hand assembly to attach the other parts and hardware.”

It wasn’t easy to design an origami kayak, but Willis says his background as an architect certainly helped "in somewhat unexpected ways. As far as design education, architecture is one that gives you a very general approach to problem solving, as opposed to specific technical skills, so that was very useful. And I always had a very hands-on approach to architecture, with models and things, so that helped as well.”


Willis calls the just-released Bay+ “a premium upgrade model.” The same size and basic specs as the first Oru Kayak, it has “a bunch of new accessories and fittings” that make it more convenient for the user. “We developed it partly in response to customer feedback over the past couple of years and partly to explore different designs and technologies we had been looking at,” he says.

Among the additions are new buckles, similar to what are found on snowboard bindings, that make it easier for people with less hand strength to put the kayak together. “The seat is the other really big use upgrade,” Willis says. “There’s an adjustable, ergonomic, high back seat that makes it a bit more comfortable for the long haul.” The new additions add just three pounds to the kayak's weight. Willis says he and his team of eight are constantly "working on things to make [the kayak] easier to manufacture and save cost on hardware and things."

When unfolded, Oru Kayaks are 12 feet long; it folds up to “about the size of a sofa cushion,” Willis says. “It’ll fit in a car trunk, you can check it on airplanes.” And because it weighs just 26 pounds—half the weight of a comparable molded plastic kayak—hikers can fold it up, throw it in the custom backpack carrying case, and walk with it. “It can go a lot of places,” Willis says, “and with practice you can assemble it in 5 minutes.” Get it in the water and it’ll feel just like any other kayak, he says, except that it’s lighter: “People with some experience are always surprised by how much it feels like other kayaks.”

Afternoon Map
The Most Searched Shows on Netflix in 2017, By State

Orange is the New Black is the new black, at least as far as Netflix viewers are concerned. The women-in-prison dramedy may have premiered in 2013, but it’s still got viewers hooked. Just as they did in 2017, took a deep dive into Netflix analytics using Google Trends to find out which shows people in each state were searching Netflix for throughout the year. While there was a little bit of crossover between 2016 and 2017, new series like American Vandal and Mindhunter gave viewers a host of new content. But that didn’t stop Orange is the New Black from dominating the map; it was the most searched show in 15 states.

Coming in at a faraway second place was American Vandal, a new true crime satire that captured the attention of five states (Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin). Even more impressive is the fact that the series premiered in mid-September, meaning that it found a large and rabid audience in a very short amount of time.

Folks in Alaska, Colorado, and Oregon were all destined to be disappointed; Star Trek: Discovery was the most searched-for series in each of these states, but it’s not yet available on Netflix in America (you’ve got to get CBS All Access for that, folks). Fourteen states broke the mold a bit with shows that were unique to their state only; this included Big Mouth in Delaware, The Keepers in Maryland, The OA in Pennsylvania, GLOW in Rhode Island, and Black Mirror in Hawaii.

Check out the map above to see if your favorite Netflix binge-watch matches up with your neighbors'. For more detailed findings, visit

Afternoon Map
Monthly Internet Costs in Every Country

Thanks to the internet, people around the world can conduct global research, trade tips, and find faraway friends without ever leaving their couch. Not everyone pays the same price for these digital privileges, though, according to new data visualizations spotted by Thrillist.

To compare internet user prices in each country, cost information site created a series of maps. The data comes courtesy of English market research consultancy BDRC and, which teamed up to analyze 3351 broadband packages in 196 nations between August 18, 2017 and October 12, 2017.

In the U.S., for example, the average cost for internet service is $66 per month. That’s substantially more than what browsers pay in neighboring Mexico ($27) and Canada ($55). Still, we don’t have it bad compared to either Namibia or Burkina Faso, where users shell out a staggering $464 and $924, respectively, for monthly broadband access. In fact, internet in the U.S. is far cheaper than what residents in 113 countries pay, including those in Saudi Arabia ($84), Indonesia ($72), and Greenland ($84).

On average, internet costs in Asia and Russia tend to be among the lowest, while access is prohibitively expensive in sub-Saharan Africa and in certain parts of Oceania. As for the world’s cheapest internet, you’ll find it in Ukraine and Iran.

Check out the maps below for more broadband insights, or view’s full findings here.

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site

[h/t Thrillist]


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