I have had my fill of shape shifting plastic materials that deform when they spend an afternoon in a closed car in the sun. The shapes always shift to a point where the product is no longer useable. Other items lose their shape when they go through the dishwasher. I even have coffee mugs that change the shape of the inside portionj so that they hold less beverage than when they were new.
But shape-changing materials that provide a benefit are an interesting thing, and I would like to see a writeup of some commercial applcation of this product.
The robotic version of this is much closer to market. With a healthy dose of imagination one could even say that one half, the second one, modular robotics is already on the market. This in the form of the Cubelets from Modular Robotics,(http://www.modrobotics.com/). The Cubelets are aimed to be a toy for kids ages 5 and up so they are not that advanced but they illustrate many of the strengths of the concept beautifully. And there is much more to come, and soon!
The robotic approach usually consists of larger units, with a size in the cm-mm range. This makes it much easier to produce and reduces cost significantly. There is even a open source unit intended for Snake robots that can be 3D printed and built for very little money http://bit.ly/oEzFfg
There are many other active research projects that are making good progress on all aspects of this problem, from hardware to software to theoretical background.
I am so excited by the potential SRCMR has that I run a blog and host a podcastfocusing on the area. I include some links if anyone is interested in further information.
Beyond robotics, what are some of the other application possibilities here? Would this apply to custom manufacturing -- each peice coming out of manufacturing molded to difference shapes? Also, does the material retain its shape-shifting qualities post-production?
Let's not forget that some very good ideas sit on the shelf until there is a need. Case in point: Corning's Gorilla Glass was developed years ago but there was little need or interest. Now just about every cell phone and tablet computer uses the material and the possibilities are now endless for its use.
One angle which I haven't wrapped my brain completely around is that Intel is leading the research here. They're doing it in conjunction with Carnegie-Mellon. The CMU part I understand -- they're a world-class robotics center. With Intel, what would it mean if they end up holding key patents in robotics and materials? It would mean that, unlike most successful huge companies which have failed to have a second act, Intel would indeed have that second act and would be a major player throughout the 21st century. (Not that they wouldn't otherwise, but you get my point. . . )
What is interesting that in a few short remarks readers offered a number of various valid ideas for applications. However, and I restate: HOWEVER none will see the light of day if our govenment continues to waste hard earned money on garbage. I'm waiting untill they wize up and start investing into our industry, and not on education projects in China, cultural projects in Pakistan and many many other worthless projects in countries that wait for us to fail.
Shaping-shifting materials are indeed a very interesting, but out-there concept. I have to commiserate with @ sensor pro, that it's too bad more of these "out-there" projects won't see the light of day thanks to budget cuts and continuing tough economic times.
I'm not sure this counts as "shape shifting" materials, but I recently read about a project by a Stanford University professor to create a transparent lithium-ion battery, which the professor and his grad student research partner hope will eventually culminate in a transparent iPhone. Let's hope advancements like this and the shape-shifting stuff continue!
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