If you have a kid, you know that a cardboard box is kind of the ultimate toy. The durable, affordable miracle that is corrugated cardboard can be used for a vast variety of purposes, including some surprisingly high-tech ones. In this article, we’ll survey the world of cardboard engineering to showcase ten incredible products made out the material.
Engineer Izhar Gafni was living in a kibbutz in Israel when he took a challenge to make a bicycle for under ten dollars. Naturally, the material that came to mind was cardboard, and after many months of experimentation he developed a slick-looking product that can be manufactured for a mere nine dollars. The frame is remarkably durable, capable of supporting 485 pounds of rider and cargo. Bicycle theft is an endemic problem in Tel Aviv, so the ability to make bikes that are too cheap to be worth stealing is a very smart one.
Before we figured out how lenses worked, pinhole cameras were the best way to capture an image. Because just a little bit of light enters the aperture, it’s suited for taking long-exposure shots that look seriously old-school. Designer Kelly Angood has created a gorgeous hand-silkscreened cardboard pinhole camera that works in the old-school way. Sure, it takes worse pictures than your iPhone, but let us know when they make an iPhone out of cardboard.
Canadian sound production house GGRP decided to go seriously low-fi for a promotional mailing in 2010. They designed and produced a record player made of cardboard that came with a 45RPM single. When you got the package, it unfolded into a self-amplifying player – the acoustic design of the cardboard framework magnified the sounds that came through the needle. Best of all, it required absolutely no electricity – you just spun the record with a pencil. Their ingenuity won them a Gold Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival.
Necessity is the mother of invention, so when Bogdon Vasquaf couldn’t afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for an upright bass, he decided to just build one himself out of cardboard. The Bogdon Box Bass is a cut above your usual homemade instrument, though. Constructed from a cardboard box and weedwacker twine, it became a sensation. Bogdon took his invention to the annual NAMM trade show, where it won the coveted Best In Show award. You can now buy the Box Bass kit at music stores all over the world.
McLaren Racecar Replica
Right off: no, you can’t drive this thing. An internal combustion engine would set a cardboard car on fire faster than you can say “bad idea.” But this astounding replica of the legendary McLaren M8B, created by artist Chris Gilmour, is factory-accurate in every other detail. Gilmour was provided with the original plans for the car and using nothing but cardboard, an X-acto knife and a hot glue gun, built a recyclable replica from scratch. Even more hilariously, he used a McLaren stroller box for the spoiler for a little ironic twist.
Ikea has always been about producing the lowest-cost products imaginable and using good design to make up the difference, so it’s not a huge surprise to see them on this list with a digital camera. Sure, the entire product isn’t made out of cardboard, because we still haven’t figured out how to etch circuitry on it, but the vast majority is. The ultra-cheap camera can hold up to 40 photos on the included memory stick, and it takes two AA batteries (sold separately, of course).
An Entire Office
In the modern world of employment, we’re all pretty much disposable and recyclable, so why shouldn’t our office furniture be the same? Designers Alrik Koudenburg and Joost van Bleiswijk were hired in 2009 by Nothing, an advertising agency in Amsterdam, to conceptualize and build an entire office suite out of nothing but cardboard. The modular system incorporates conference tables, wall dividers, cubicles and even a stairway to a raised platform, and it’s all put together with no screws or glue just to be even more impressive.
Cardboard is actually a pretty good material for audio amplification (relatively speaking), and if you’re looking for a cool low-fi way to boost your iPod’s volume, check out the Berlin Boombox. This Kickstarter-funded product by German designer Axel Pfaender is a do-it-yourself kit that comes flat packed and is simple to assemble. Two 5-watt amplifiers deliver decent sound and the whole thing is so light it won’t give you shoulder cramps. It has a slick, retro screenprinted design that is both eco-friendly and easy on the eyes.
Giant Cardboard Robot Arms
Sadly, nobody has made a fully functional giant robot out of cardboard yet. Until that day comes, we can be happy with a giant pair of cardboard robot arms created by a guy in California. Each arm is about five and a half feet long and incorporates a fully flexing elbow joint and 360-degree wrist rotation. You can either order them pre-assembled or as a kit, if you’re handy with a box cutter and have about five hours to spare. Why not get two pairs so you can play Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots at life size?
Next: Mind-Bending Optical Illusions
One of the most inspirational stories of last year was the tale of young Caine Monroy, who built an entire working arcade in his dad’s Los Angeles auto parts store. Using nothing but imagination, cardboard and tape, Caine’s machines were perfect illustrations that you don’t need a lot of money to have a good time, and now people from all over the world come to experience it. So grab yourself a couple old boxes and some scissors and see what kind of invention your fertile mind can come up with.