Self-Assembly Lab

Programmable Materials

Self-Assembly Lab, Christophe Guberan, Erik Demaine, Carbitex LLC, Autodesk Inc.

Programmable Materials consist of material compositions that are designed to become highly dynamic in form and function, yet they are as cost-effective as traditional materials, easily fabricated and capable of flat-pack shipping and self-assembly.  These new materials include: self-transforming carbon fiber, printed wood grain, custom textile composites and other rubbers/plastics, which offer unprecedented capabilities including programmable actuation, sensing and self-transformation, from a simple material.

Nearly every industry has long desired smarter materials and robotic-like transformation from apparel, architecture, product design and manufacturing to aerospace and automotive industries. However, these capabilities have often required expensive, error-prone and complex electromechanical devices (motors, sensors, electronics), bulky components, power consumption (batteries or electricity) and difficult assembly processes. These constraints have made it difficult to efficiently produce dynamic systems, higher-performing machines and more adaptive products, until now. Our goal is true material robotics or robots without robots.

A number of recent technologies have been brought together to enable a breakthrough in material performance. These technologies include: multi-material 3D/4D printing, advances in materials science and new capabilities in simulation/optimization software. These capabilities have now made it possible to fully program a wide range of materials to change shape, appearance or other property, on demand.

Self-Assembly Lab Team:
Skylar Tibbits, Athina Papadopoulou, Carrie McKnelly, Christopher Martin, Filipe Campos

Programmable Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is traditionally characterized by high stiffness, tensile strength, and low weight, making it advantageous for many industrial applications. We have programmed carbon fiber to transform autonomously by printing active material on fully cured flexible carbon fiber and applying heat as an activator. The Briggs Automotive Company (BAC) Morphing Supercar Wing and the Airbus Engine Flap demonstrate industry-specific applications of programmable material technology. In each, a single piece of programmable carbon fiber transforms its shape to create aerodynamic advantage and tunable performance. Contrary to traditional mechanical activation, this method requires no complex electronics, sensors, or actuators; it decreases the total weight and minimizes failure-prone mechanisms.

Self-Assembly Lab, MIT + Carbitex LLC + Autodesk Inc

Morphing Supercar Wing

Self-Assembly Lab, MIT+ Briggs Automotive Company (BAC) + Carbitex LLC + Autodesk Inc

Morphing Jet Engine AirInlet

Self-Assembly Lab, MIT+ Center for Bits and Atoms, MIT + Airbus + Carbitex LLC + Autodesk Inc

Programmable Wood - Custom Printed Wood Grain

Traditional wood-bending techniques require complex steaming equipment, labor-intensive forming processes, and a high degree of expertise. In addition, the natural pattern of wood grain and its physical properties make it difficult to curve into complex shapes. Novel printing and composite material technologies can now overcome prior limitations of wood forming. Flat sheets of custom printed wood composite can be designed to self-transform in controlled and unique ways. While the lab has used water as a medium for activation, we imagine that we can also create wooden composites that radically adapt to extreme environmental conditions.

Self-Assembly Lab, MIT + Christophe Guberan + Erik Demaine + Autodesk Inc.
In collaboration with the Institute for Computational Design, University of Stuttgart.

Programmable Textiles

The translucent, lightweight, and malleable properties of textiles have been utilized for centuries in architecture, furniture, and apparel design. Typically, stretching fabric onto rigid structural frames requires complex molding and mechanical methods. Our research demonstrates a new method for utilizing textiles that can take advantage of its unique properties while reducing the complexity of forming processes. By printing material in varied layer thicknesses onto stretched textiles we are able to create self-transforming structures that reconfigure into pre-programmed shapes. Programmable textiles open up new possibilities for furniture, product manufacturing, and shipping as well as new methods for self-assembly and user interaction.

Self-Assembly Lab, MIT+ Christophe Guberan + Erik Demaine + Autodesk Inc