/New programmable materials can sense their own movements

New programmable materials can sense their own movements

Key idea:  Engineers 3D print materials with networks of sensors directly incorporated.

Original author and publication date: Adam Zewe (MIT News Office) – August 10, 2022

Futurizonte Editor’s Note: A material can sense its own movement? What could it happen if we combined with AI? Or is AI already incorporated?

From the article:   

MIT researchers have developed a method for 3D printing materials with tunable mechanical properties, that sense how they are moving and interacting with the environment. The researchers create these sensing structures using just one material and a single run on a 3D printer.

To accomplish this, the researchers began with 3D-printed lattice materials and incorporated networks of air-filled channels into the structure during the printing process. By measuring how the pressure changes within these channels when the structure is squeezed, bent, or stretched, engineers can receive feedback on how the material is moving.

The method opens opportunities for embedding sensors within architected materials, a class of materials whose mechanical properties are programmed through form and composition. Controlling the geometry of features in architected materials alters their mechanical properties, such as stiffness or toughness. For instance, in cellular structures like the lattices the researchers print, a denser network of cells makes a stiffer structure.

This technique could someday be used to create flexible soft robots with embedded sensors that enable the robots to understand their posture and movements. It might also be used to produce wearable smart devices that provide feedback on how a person is moving or interacting with their environment.

“The idea with this work is that we can take any material that can be 3D-printed and have a simple way to route channels throughout it so we can get sensorization with structure. And if you use really complex materials, then you can have motion, perception, and structure all in one,” says co-lead author Lillian Chin, a graduate student in the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

In the future, the researchers look forward to finding new applications for this technique, such as creating novel human-machine interfaces or soft devices that have sensing capabilities within the internal structure. Chin is also interested in utilizing machine learning to push the boundaries of tactile sensing for robotics.

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