Science fiction has been preparing to jump off the big screen of Hollywood and make it into the real world.
Latest science fiction movies have showcased the independent decision-making power of artificially intelligent computer programs — like the fictional character J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Avenger film series — to perform a sequence of actions, and these imaginary movie scenarios could now be closer to reality than we may think.
Scientists from the University of Missouri and the University of Chicago have created an artificial material, known as a metamaterial, with the ability to respond to its environment, make independent decisions and carry out an action not directed by a human being. The study was published recently in Nature Communications, a journal of Nature.
For instance, a drone used for delivery might assess its surroundings for wind speed, wind direction or wildlife, thus automatically changing its course to make the delivery safely.
According to Guoliang Huang, Huber and Helen Croft Chair in Engineering and co-author of the study, the mechanical design of their new artificial material includes three key functions that are also exhibited by materials that occur naturally — information processing, sensing and movement or actuation.
Certain examples of such natural materials are the quick response of a Venus fly trap’s leafy jaws to trap an insect, chameleons that change their skin color to merge into their surroundings and pine cones adjusting their shapes in reaction to variations in air humidity, Huang added.
Basically, we are controlling how this material responds to changes in external stimuli found in its surroundings. For example, we can apply this material to stealth technology in the aerospace industry by attaching the material to aerospace structures. It can help control and decrease noises coming from the aircraft, such as engine vibrations, which can increase its multifunctional capabilities.
Guoliang Huang, Study Co-Author and Huber and Helen Croft Chair in Engineering, University of Missouri
The material employs a computer chip to manipulate or regulate the processing of information required to carry out the needed actions. It then uses electrical power to transform that energy into mechanical energy. As a next step, the researchers will execute their concept in a real-world setting.
The study was financially supported by grants from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AF9550-18-1-0342 and AF 9550-20-0279), the Army Research Office (W911NF-18-1-0031 and W911NF-19-1-0268) and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (1746045).
Chen, Y., et al. (2021) Realization of active metamaterials with odd micropolar elasticity. Nature Communications. doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-26034-z.