The Hoberman Sphere: More Than Just A Toy

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Source: Tony Cuozzo

Cuozzo, T. (2011). Hoberman Sphere Handheld against white ceiling. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/toncu/5677980375

Do you remember that one toy someone would bring to school, and everyone would want to play with it, and that would make the person who brought it look so cool? Well, that toy was called the Hoberman Sphere. Chuck Hoberman is the creator of this famous toy from the 1990’s. But Hoberman was not originally focused on making a kid’s toy; he was focused on how things transform, like a flower blooming, for example. Hoberman has been making many transformable objects for a while, from toys to possible shelters.

The Hoberman sphere is functional by geometry. The shapes made up inside are triangles and pentagons. The motions to open it are just a push and a pull, but the actual sphere opening and closing is each individual piece moving along its course in a scissor-like motion. 

At first, the engineering problem Hoberman was trying to solve was how a sphere could shape-shift in a natural way. After a while, he created a scissor-like mechanism where the angle formed by its endpoints did not change. Once he did that, Hoberman designed the full sphere that could open and close to change size while keeping it’s shape.

Using that technique, Hoberman made an 800 pound sphere that is suspended in New Jersey’s Liberty Science Center. It has been there for about 25 years now. Hoberman noticed that kids were really interested in the giant opening and closing sphere so he decided to put it in a box and sell it so that kids could enjoy it. Some people, such as teachers, also use  the Hoberman sphere in their classrooms to keep kids calm and focused.

When his spheres started getting famous, Hoberman was asked to make more projects, such as the giant curtain for the 2002 winter Olympics. 

Hoberman is more focused on making his pieces feel alive and transformable. He always tries to bring an artistic eye to his projects using various materials and shapes. He also focuses on where we can go with transformation. Take the tent that he designed, for example. A normal tent would take hours to put up, but this tent can be put up in a few minutes. It is not like a normal tent where each individual piece is put up one at a time. With Hoberman’s tent, the whole thing is built to be folded up and down.

Onto an old- fashioned technique – Origami. Origami was at first an art craft but was later incorporated into  engineering, building, etc. Hoberman says that scientists have found that a flat piece of paper can be folded into ANY shape. A few years ago, Hoberman was obsessed with how he could make big origami structures that could open and close at the push of a button. He builds them by cutting out sheets of plastic using a robotic arm, then connects them together in different shapes. 

Some challenges that Hoberman has had to face include what materials to use and how the piece he designs is going to expand. Something he has used has been inflation. He does it by having an origami piece wrapped in a seal. The seal keeps the air inside when it is put in. Then, he puts the air in to expand it, and a vacuum to pull the air out.

Hoberman’s intriguing designs and pieces could lead to new, transformable technology, from furniture to medical devices. Hoberman says he loves to work on his pieces because he wants to try something that no one has ever done. 

Related Stories:

https://www.real-world-physics-problems.com/hoberman-sphere.html

https://www.wired.com/story/chuck-hoberman-obsessed-video/