Ok, so my mind has just been blown. We all know flexible electronics are on their way. It isn’t all that innovative to imagine, but heck, when you actually see a picture of a super thin conductive surface working, it is pretty amazing.
Lightweight and Indestructible
Nature just posted a huge article on a thin film sensory material with impressive images of it floating to the ground like a feather, or pressed into the roof of a mouth (cast) to take up the exact form and gather information. It is hard not to get excited! The image with the feather is amazing for the concept that future electronics could be extremely tough, not because they are built out of bullet proof material, but because it is so light it will never fall hard enough to break. Now that is some divergent thinking.
Smart Surfaces Everywhere
Above is an excellent lecture, but prepare some pop-corn, it is a long one…
It is incredibly inspiring, and intimidating when you come across someone who is exploring similar train of thought you may have been dabbling in for years. Inspiring as you get validation and stimulation from their work, and intimidating when they are executing it at a quantity and quality of output that is staggering. Tom Wiscombe, who I am embarrassed to have only recently discovered is exactly one of those amazing applied thinkers.
I also need to admit I have not spent nearly enough time processing all of the content, so apologies in advance if the following is a little fragmented – there are a lot of rabbit holes to explore.
Deconstructing the Built Environment
In class we deconstruct design territories into broad concepts in order to approach them through a variety of lenses. As discussed previously, we challenge the concept of a wall by questioning it as a membrane or a shell, using language to unlock low-associative thoughts. Tom Wiscombe, it turns out has been doing this to great depth with some excellent insights into deconstructing labels in order to disrupt preconceived concepts. I hope you enjoy the quote below as much as I did when I first read it:
“It’s time to replace outmoded terms like “building services” and “mechanical systems“ once and for all… The notion of the “mechanical” brings us back to the industrial paradigm, rooted in a pre‐networked world. And lighting design has become little more than a fixture‐shopping experience. For now, maybe we can refer to these marginalized techno‐systems in a more refreshing way as airflow, fluid flow, and glow.”
Tom Wiscombe, Extreme Integration, Published in AD: Exuberance (ed. by Marjan Coletti), March, 2010
Airflow, fluid flow and glow, are just the tip of the technological, structural and formal concepts that Tom is extracting in order to functionally integrate technological mash-ups.
Let me share a couple of his projects that give context to what might be sounding a bit abstract right now:
There are three observations I want to share around fabrication technologies that highlight the extraordinarily diverse innovation occurring in the world. At the small scale are robobees, tiny robots that exhibit an extraordinary level of manufacturing detail – the photos are mind blowing when you really wrap your head around the complexity being fabricated at the size of a penny. At medium scale is the Nike FlyFit shoe which has been getting a lot of press, and proves to me that the future of design is fibre. At the large scale, while the quadrocopters may be small, the possibilities are enormous as architects experiment with their own version of rapid fabrication.
Small – Robobees
Chris Lefteri has written an excellent array of books for designers around materials. They started off as a series on the latest and greatest technologies in specific materials such as wood, ceramics, glass, etc… Over the last few years he has positioned himself as a unique materials consultant for designers.
Apparently Chris is also very generous as he is constantly releasing free resources through a range of side projects. A favourite of mine, and my students, shout out to Rudy for reminding me about this, is a little web zine called “Ingredients”. It’s a playful magazine with a range of provocative essays, stunning photography and general materials news. Jump to the link available here and click around to download the latest issue, I think there are five in total, and I really encourage diving in and snooping around (you have to “sign up” but I have never been spammed by them, so all should be good).
I’ve recently become more obsessed with self healing materials, which I have learned in materials science speak is “autonomous material systems”. I like that fancy title, in one part for it’s scienceness factor, but mostly because it reminds us that materials are complex systems, not a static substance. To get started I’ve included the Wikipedia definition is here (which has an excellent overview of the general research):
Self-healing materials are a class of smart materials that have the structurally incorporated ability to repair damage caused by mechanical usage over time. The inspiration comes from biological systems, which have the ability to heal after being wounded.
Below I’ve collected a variety of case studies and a general overview of some of the principles. If you’re ready to dive into the meat of the science there is a paper available here that really shows off the research.
Autonomous Materials Systems
The best site for an overview of the science as well as mind blowing examples of the materials research is the Autonomous Materials Systems website from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (whew that’s a mouthful).
The materials are incredible. Their research presents three main types of self healing materials;
- Microencapsulated Systems – material containing little capsules filled with a healing agent that bonds when in contact with catalysts also embedded in the material (see diagram below).
- Microvascular Systems – materials filled with capillaries filled with healing agents
- Mechanoresponsive Polymers – modifications made at the chemical level that control how a material responds under strain – simple example is changing colour before failure. I’ll admit I understand this kind the least.