Sean Hanna of the University College of London has been working on the idea of responsive materials that could be inherently intelligent and respond to external forces in the environment, like the cells living in an organism. Although research on the Nano scale is the eventual goal of these efforts, Sean has started a millimeter level project through Subtle Technologies of the University of Toronto. The project is not unlike the work done at Carnegie and Intel involving the claytronics movement we posted about here not long ago.
Sean admits that the manipulation of individual molecules for the production of the required nano-scale materials is out of the realm of reality at the moment, but his research takes us one step closer to the ideal level of manipulation necessary for these complex material systems in mind.
The project site relates the research to other natural materials as so:
“The process simulates an interconnected lattice of intelligent structural agents. All materials, while treated as continuous, have complex internal structures that determine their properties: at the cellular level these give wood its strength, at the molecular level differentiate diamond from graphite. Just as each individual cell of living wood or bone is a part of a distributed intelligence, genetically programmed to take the form best suited to its particular relationship to other cells, these structural agents each possess a modicum of intelligence that allows the group to make such a computation quickly and efficiently.
Such principles can also be used in the analysis of human behaviour, allowing the environment to respond to us. While less well understood, social behaviour can be handled with similar models of complex systems and machine learning. The new technology can yield objects made of a material that shapes itself at the smallest level, or equally an intelligent structure at the scale of city. With recent architectural projects in excess of one kilometre and the enclosure of entire city neighbourhoods becoming a reality, such an approach may help to form our environment on a truly massive scale.”
We actually got in contact with Sean and asked him more about his efforts in material research. This is what he had to say about the project:
“This is an ongoing research stream to develop a method for the realization of highly complex, modular structures at an arbitrary level of detail, at a speed which enables them to be integrated into a normal design process characterized by rapid change and updates. Additive manufacturing methods are used. This work has yielded methods for optimizing the microstructure of objects made by stereo-lithography or laser sintering, both rapid prototyping technologies. These maximize the strength of an object while minimizing its weight, by placing material in the areas required to best withstand the external forces applied, similar to the organic micro-structures in natural wood or bone.”
Sean also encouraged our readers to visit the UCL Adaptive Architecture and Computation site to learn more about research and projects he is actively engaged with. We will be posting about these and more projects of Sean’s in the future.
also found on Lift Architecture