Honghua Li


Computing science grad finds way to create compact furniture

June 29, 2015

By Jackie Amsden

Bikes that collapse into backpack-sized packages, micro-umbrellas that compact to a quarter of their regular size and even laptops with screens that fold in half. We love things that shrink—and thanks to the work of recent SFU PhD graduand, Honghua Li, home decor stores around the world may soon be stocked with a whole new generation of furniture that does exactly that.    

Li, who has just graduated from the School of Computing Science, has helped create an algorithm that automatically calculates how a particular piece of furniture can be redesigned so that it takes up the least amount of space possible. The tool could allow designers to create space-saving furniture more easily and efficiently than ever before.

“The computer algorithm defines how a chair or desk can be modified to become completely foldable and stackable,” says Li. According to his research, the algorithms achieved space-saving ratios of up to 88.9 per cent in some cases—and with little more effort than a click of the mouse.

“Our hope is that it will help designers do what are actually pretty complex and tedious calculations fast and easily so they can get on to the creative aspects of their work,” he says.

Li was the first author on a research paper published as part of LA’s International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques that showcased his algorithm. The paper and its findings have drawn attention from media outlets across the world, including the South China Morning Post newspaper and 3dprint.com.

The algorithm represents a significant contribution to the burgeoning field of 3D printing, where automated formulas and codes are needed to help people without design expertise access the new technology to create real-world objects. Li’s algorithm may help usher in a new trend of extreme DIY furniture.

He explains that despite the research’s potential to impact the kitchens and living rooms of millions of urbanites, its origins were anything but ambitious.

“It started as a joke. I was with my supervisors, Richard Zhang and Daniel Cohen-Or (Tel- Aviv University) at the Himalayan Peak restaurant for lunch and we were waiting for our food. We started playing around with glasses on the table and talking about why some glasses were able to stack more compactly than others.”

 Li’s research wouldn’t have been possible without the financial support he received from the China Scholarship Council.  In addition, he points to the School of Computing Science’s guidance and resources as crucial to the team’s accomplishment.

“Coming to SFU brought me to the forefront in computer graphics,” says Li. “My supervisors were geniuses and the 3D printer-equipped lab allowed us to see the results of our work immediately and have a concrete sample to play with and inspire us with new problems.”

Li is currently working for a computer-graphic start-up company based out of Changsha, China, while he continues to finalize the algorithm.

“It still needs some modifications before it can be applied but I am really excited about what it is going to do for the field of 3D printing when it’s ready.