Programmable Materials

Programmable Materials is series of investigations on unique material compositions that are designed to become highly dynamic in form and function. These materials, including carbon fiber, wood, plastic and textile composites, are easy to produce, as cost-effective as traditional materials, and allow for unprecedented possibilities like adaptive aerodynamics, flat-pack shipping and self-reconfiguration. Through printing and lamination techniques we can now design a material grain pattern and produce customized composite materials with highly unique behavior and transformations.

Architecture has a long tradition of investigating smart materials, form-finding techniques and structural reconfigurations: from Antoni Gaudi's hanging chain models, Buckminster Fuller's structures, Frei Otto's Mannheim Multihalle and the infamous Jean Nouvel's Institute du Monde Arabe, to name just a few. Similarly, many industries have also desired intelligent material solutions and robotic-like transformation: from apparel, product design and manufacturing to aerospace and automotive industries. However, these capabilities have often required expensive, error-prone and complex electromechanical devices and difficult assembly processes. These constraints have made it difficult to efficiently produce dynamic systems, higher-performing machines and more adaptive products. By Programming Materials we envision a design future that takes advantage of true material computation. By customizing materials for self-folding, we can create robots without robots and respond to dynamic manufacturing and design challenges.

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 unique material compositions 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 and other material properties on demand.

This project was exhibited at Keller Gallery at MIT under the title: Programming Materials: Customized for Self-Folding, Nov 13- Dec 19, 2014.

Collaborators: Autodesk Inc.; Carbitex LLC; Airbus SAS; Briggs Automotive Company; Center for Bits and Atoms, MIT; Institute for Computational Design, University of Stuttgart; Math Practice

Acknowledgements: This project was funded in part by the Department of Architecture, MIT, the MIT Faculty HASS Award, and the International Design Center, MIT.