Programmable Materials

Project by Skylar Tibbits for MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab explores materials that can alter their shape under certain conditions, from carbon fiber and fabric to woodgrain:

Programmable Materials consist of material compositions that are designed to become highly dynamic in form and function, yet they are as cost-effective as traditional materials, easily fabricated and capable of flat-pack shipping and self-assembly.  These new materials include: self-transforming carbon fiber, printed wood grain, custom textile composites and other rubbers/plastics, which offer unprecedented capabilities including programmable actuation, sensing and self-transformation, from a simple material.

Nearly every industry has long desired smarter materials and robotic-like transformation from apparel, architecture, product design and manufacturing to aerospace and automotive industries. However, these capabilities have often required expensive, error-prone and complex electromechanical devices (motors, sensors, electronics), bulky components, power consumption (batteries or electricity) and difficult assembly processes. These constraints have made it difficult to efficiently produce dynamic systems, higher-performing machines and more adaptive products, until now. Our goal is true material robotics or robots without robots.

A couple of examples - here is a proof-of-concept adaptive airfoil which does not require any additional mechanical parts:

Here is a proof of concept demonstration of ‘programmable wood’:

More about this project can be found here

Clear material on windows harvests solar energy
A new type of “transparent” solar concentrator can be used on windows or mobile devices to harvest solar energy without obscuring the view. Past efforts to create similar materials have been disappointing, with inefficient energy production or highly colored materials. “No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” says Richard Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State University. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.” The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight. “We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” he says. The “glowing” infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic, where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells. “Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt says. (via Clear material on windows harvests solar energy - Futurity)