University of Colorado at Boulder professor Nikolaus Correll and doctoral student Andy McEvoy have conceived of composite materials that integrate sensing, actuation, computation, and communication thanks to innovations in polymers and the miniaturization of computing devices. They say such materials can perceive their environment at high bandwidth, implement high-speed feedback control to reconfigure their shape or appearance, and address difficult computing problems via distributed algorithms.
Applications of such "robotic materials" include a skin that triangulates and classifies textures rubbed against it, smart glass that can shift its opacity and color, and intelligent particles that enable three-dimensional printing of functional mechatronic objects.
Correll and McEvoy say it will be possible to design smart composites that mimic various properties of organic systems, such as the camouflage abilities of the cuttlefish. With the addition of autonomy, such composites can lead to robotic systems with human-like dexterity, agility, and intelligence, self-diagnosing and mutable airplane wings, or interactive edifices that let users tailor their appearance and geometry.
Addressing the challenges of developing robotic materials entails mapping out their design and control, the distributed algorithms that power them, their applications, and their fabrication. Among the issues that must be resolved to realize these composites is finding a way to predict collective behavior given knowledge on individual interactions.
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