From Science Fiction to Science Fact: Making Intelligent Materials a Reality

Science Fiction and Science Fact: Intelligent Materials

A prototype system developed by UCLA engineers has brought materials that can learn to change shape in response external stimuli closer to reality.

Living organisms are constantly adapting to their environment, allowing them to thrive in any situation. Inanimate materials don’t usually learn, except for in science fiction films. A team led by Jonathan Hopkins of University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has now demonstrated that a material capable of learning can be created [1]. The material is composed of a series of beam-like elements that can adapt their structure to respond to stimuli. The team claims that the material can be used as a prototype for future \”intelligent manufacturing\”.

The material created by Hopkins and his colleagues is called a mechanical neural network (MNN). Scientists believe that intelligent materials, if produced at a commercial level, could revolutionize the manufacturing industry in many fields. A MNN-made aircraft wing could adapt its shape to the changing wind conditions in order to maintain its flying efficiency. A MNN-made house could adjust its structure in order to maintain its integrity during an earthquake.