In a first, scientists engineered a material that can ‘think’ and ‘sense’

“We are currently translating this to a means of ‘seeing’ to augment the sense of ‘touching’ we have presently created,” said Harne.

“Our goal is to develop a material that demonstrates autonomous navigation through an environment by seeing signs, following them and manoeuvering out of the way of adverse mechanical forces, such as something stepping on it.”

Charles El Helou, a doctorate candidate in mechanical engineering at Penn State, as well as Benjamin Grossman, Christopher E. Tabor, and Philip R. Buskohl from the US Air Force Research Laboratory, are other authors of the paper.

The US Air Force-funded research first appeared in Nature, a weekly international journal publishing peer-reviewed research.

Study abstract:

Recent developments in autonomous engineered matter have introduced the ability for intelligent materials to process environmental stimuli and functionally adapt. To formulate a foundation for such an engineered living material paradigm, researchers have introduced sensing and actuating functionalities in soft matter. Yet, information processing is the key functional element of autonomous engineered matter that has been recently explored through unconventional techniques with limited computing scalability. Here we uncover a relation between Boolean mathematics and kinematically reconfigurable electrical circuits to realize all combinational logic operations in soft, conductive mechanical materials. We establish an analytical framework that minimizes the canonical functions of combinational logic by the Quine–McCluskey method, and governs the mechanical design of reconfigurable integrated circuit switching networks in soft matter. The resulting mechanical integrated circuit materials perform higher-level arithmetic, number comparison, and decode binary data to visual representations. We exemplify two methods to automate the design on the basis of canonical Boolean functions and individual gate-switching assemblies. We also increase the computational density of the materials by a monolithic layer-by-layer design approach. As the framework established here leverages mathematics and kinematics for system design, the proposed approach of mechanical integrated circuit materials can be realized on any length scale and in a wide variety of physics.

Leave a Comment