Technology 11 March 2016
It’s the ultimate Transformer. Flick a switch and watch as your house packs itself into a backpack, or its walls open into a doorway. That’s the vision behind a material that can be programmed to change shape.
Developed by Johannes Overvelde at Harvard University and his colleagues, the system allows objects to be made in one shape – and then automatically morphed into others.
The basic building block is a cube made of polymer sheets. More complex forms are built by connecting multiple cubes together – much like Lego kits. “It is one of the simplest foldable shapes that is also reconfigurable when assembled,” says Overvelde.
The system is inspired by snapology, a type of origami in which complex forms are made by snapping together folded paper ribbons. Snapology lets structures be reconfigured in more ways than other folding techniques. It also allows the construction of both rigid and flexible forms from the same basic block. The researchers suggest the technology could be used to make a shelter or sturdy chair that folds itself up into a flat sheet for storage.
To control the shapes produced, the team added pneumatic actuators to their blocks and calculated how much pressure had to be applied to form different shapes. During tests the researchers used syringes to pump in air. But it could be done automatically, says Overvelde. “A computer should be able to automatically transform the structure using the rules.”
The team also hopes to make its structures morph in response to environmental stimuli like changes in temperature.
“This technology could be used for adaptive protectors such as car bumpers or helmets that actively change shape and stiffness,” says Shuhei Miyashita at the University of York, UK. Materials have long been considered static and unalterable. Ones that can transform are overturning that assumption, he says.
Journal reference: Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10929
Like this? Read about the quest to create the smartest materials
(Image credits: The Bertoldi Lab/Harvard SEAS)
Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2080328-shape-shifting-matter-could-let-houses-crumple-themselves-away/#ixzz6i6PEHIps