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 Popular Infomercial Product in Each State

You don't have to pay $19.95 plus shipping and handling to discover the most popular infomercial product in each state: AT&T retailer All Home Connections is giving that information away for free via a handy map.

The map was compiled by cross-referencing the top-grossing infomercial products of all time with Google Trends search interest from the past calendar year. So, which crazy products do people order most from their TVs?

Folks in Arizona know that it's too hot there to wear layers; that's why they invest in the Cami Secret—a clip-on, mock top that gives them the look of a camisole without all the added fabric. No-nonsense New Yorkers are protecting themselves from identity theft with the RFID-blocking Aluma wallet. Delaware's priorities are all sorted out, because tons of its residents are still riding the Snuggie wave. Meanwhile, Vermont has figured out that Pajama Jeans are the way to go—because who needs real pants?

Unsurprisingly, the most popular product in many states has to do with fitness and weight loss, because when you're watching TV late enough to start seeing infomercials, you're probably also thinking to yourself: "I need to get my life together. I should get in shape." Seven states—Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Utah, and Wisconsin—have invested in the P90X home fitness system, while West Virginia and Arkansas prefer the gentler workout provided by the Shake Weight. The ThighMaster is still a thing in Illinois and Washington, while Total Gym and Bowflex were favored by South Dakota and Wyoming, respectively. 

Kitchen items are clearly another category ripe for impulse-buying: Alabama and North Dakota are all over the George Forman Grill; Alaska and Rhode Island are mixing things up with the Magic Bullet; and Floridians must be using their Slice-o-matics to chop up limes for their poolside margaritas.

Cleaning products like OxiClean (D.C. and Hawaii), Sani Sticks (North Carolina), and the infamous ShamWow (which claims the loyalty of Mainers) are also popular, but it's Proactiv that turned out to be the big winner. The beloved skin care system claimed the top spot in eight states—California, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas—making it the most popular item on the map.

Peep the full map above, or check out the full study from All Home Connections here.

A Florida Brewery Created Edible Six-Pack Rings to Protect Marine Animals

For tiny scraps of plastic, six-pack rings can pose a huge threat to marine life. Small enough and ubiquitous enough that they’re easy to discard and forget about, the little plastic webs all too often make their way to the ocean, where animals can ingest or become trapped in them. In order to combat that problem, Florida-based Saltwater Brewery has created what they say is the world’s first fully biodegradable, compostable, edible six-pack rings.

The edible rings are made of barley and wheat and are, if not necessarily tasty, at least safe for animals and humans to ingest. Saltwater Brewery started packaging their beers with the edible six-pack rings in 2016. They charge slightly more for their brews to offset the cost of the rings' production. They hope that customers will be willing to pay a bit more for the environmentally friendly beers and are encouraging other companies to adopt the edible six-pack rings in order to lower manufacturing prices and save more animals.

As Saltwater Brewery president Chris Gove says in the video above: “We want to influence the big guys and kind of inspire them to also get on board.”


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