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Digital Material Architecture: FY19 Advanced Materials and Processes Line-Supported Program

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MIT Lincoln Laboratory Lexington United States

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Smart materials, which can respond to their environment or external input by changing properties or shape, are an active area of research. Versatility of these materials has been limited by their lack of programmability. Current smart materials generally react along predefined paths, by changing their shape between two or more known configurations via folding, or actuation caused by internal or external stimuli. We propose a new class of smart material that will not be limited to single or few configurations but be truly arbitrary in its shape-changing abilities. Conceptually, this material would consist of repeating units or cells, with each cell having a digital microcontroller and affiliated microhydraulic actuators. Upon reprogramming, the cells could individually change shape and potentially relative location, giving a macroscopic shape change to the overall material. Instructions to the cells would be sent using digital addressing principles that are used to make modern digital computers so versatile. In general, the shape of these digital materials could be changed arbitrarily, but in reality the limitations of the internal and external cell architecture will translate into limitations for the digital material.

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Technical Report




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Approved For Public Release;

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