Autonomous Adaptive Structure Uses Shape Memory Polymer

An autonomous adaptive structure created with special shape memory polymer is a self-healing composite material; it could diagnose itself with cracks and then regenerate the damaged materials and return to a pre-determined shape.

When the material sustains damage, such as a tear, an infrared laser transmits light through the fiber-optic network, delivering thermal energy to the trouble-spot. That triggers the shape-memory polymers, which are programmed to toughen up to 11 times. The shape-memory effect can also close up a crack or tear, regaining an unheard of 96 percent of the material’s original strength. Moreover, the material can self-heal while it is in operation – whatever that operation may be.

Those autonomous adaptive structures could be further advanced with some interesting shape-memory polymer research coming out of MIT this week as well. Scientists there have for the first time mathematically modeled shape-memory polymers in detail, which should make it a lot easier to design them for new applications like implantable medical devices or space materials that can be compacted into tiny packages and then automatically expanded into complex structures once they’re aloft.

Take a look at this brief video showing a prototype autonomous adaptive structure created from a shape memory polymer:

(Shape memory polymer heals itself with )

Fans of writer J.G. Ballard recall with delight the psychotropic house from his 1962 short story The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista. These structures alter their shape, protect themselves and even heal themselves using a special material - plastex:

As it responded to me, the ceiling lifting slightly and the walls growing less opaque, reflecting my perspective-seeking eye, I noticed that curious mottled knots were forming, indicating where the room had been strained and healed faultily. Deep hidden rifts began to distort the sphere, ballooning out one of the alcoves like a bubble of overextended gum.
(Read more about plastex)

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