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Self-assembling foam chair expands right before your eyes

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Imagine a world where all of the furniture you buy isn't just flat-packed, it can be condensed to five percent of its original size ready for you to take home. It's a future that Noumenon designer Carl de Smet wants to make a reality, by working with polyurethane shape-memory polymers (SMPs) to compress chairs and other pieces of furniture into flat slabs that can be easily stored and transported until they are ready to be used.

By using these special polymers, Smet is able to manufacture furniture in its original form. He then applies heat to loosen the polymer bonds and uses machines to compress it twenty times its original size. When the owner unboxes it, they apply heat — via an electrical charge — which returns it to its predetermined (and solid) shape. Back in 1969, designer Gaetano Pesce discovered he could vacuum-seal polyurethane foam to fit furniture into flat boxes. Currently, the material is programmed to expand at 70 degrees celsius (158°F), but work has already begun on a chair that requires just 35 degrees celsius (95°F) to expand. Smet hopes his Memories of the Future project will bring foam chairs such as his to the mass market, aided by the ease of production and affordability of the polymer itself.