Did you say “Programmable Materials”?!?


Thoughts Piece

At the 2014 Wired event we were totally blown away by a guy called Skylar from MIT (let’s be honest, for a tech guy, his name is awesome!). He spoke about materials becoming autonomous with their own ability to react to passive energy to change their form or function.

Wooooaaaaahhhh! What? Ok, back up.

So materials naturally have their own abilities. We know wood expands and contracts. Steel absorbs heat and its temperature changes in response to the environment around it. That’s accepted. But what Skylar is talking about is that a piece of wood can transform from a flat sheet in to an 3D elephant…with nothing other than natural energy sources such as moisture, heat and sound. Mind-boggling!

How has MIT Self-Assembly Lab achieved this? By taking 3D printing to a whole other dimension and adding time (effectively 4D printing). By printing with a mixture of materials, one for the static, rigid structure, the other for the movement and expansion part, they can program materials that react to natural energy.

So Programmable Matter: is the science engineering and design of physical matter that has the ability to change form or function in a programmable fashion. That breaks down to 3 stages:

So by that very statement, it could be possible in the future to turn a chair in to a table.

You may remember the advert from Zurich Insurance back in 2007 that positioned the world as changeable. Well, with this technology it could very well be possible in a much more sophisticated way. Imagine that. Your coffee house turns in to a retail shop when the coffee rush is over, that then turns in to a restaurant, which then turns in to a bar. Now that’s making the most of rental values!

Skylar claims it is now possible to programme nearly every material to assemble themselves and transform in useful ways. This changes construction, packaging, shipping, environments, everything. This development in material coding puts us all on the edge of a radical revolution and will change they way we will live our lives.