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The First Step Toward Programmable Matter

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  • The First Step Toward Programmable Matter

    Darpa (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in science fiction films is often cast as the evil agency funding the horribly misguided weapons research which gets out of hand and threatens to destroy life as we know it. It the real world, they are the guys with the coolest toys.

    Take, for example, the idea of programmable matter. It’s been a science fiction concept for decades, but in 2007 Darpa decided it was time to get going on a real world prototype. Darpa funded researchers from Harvard and MIT, and the result is the recently-unveiled self-folding origami panel. It’s a sheet less than a half-millimeter thick, divided into triangles and covered with thin actuators and electronics. When triggered, the material folds itself into the shape of either a plane or a boat.

    Admittedly, this is not exactly the quicksilver terminator. But it is a start toward programmable matter which Darpa sees as eventually leading to self-altering uniforms, radical variable-geometry aircraft, and even a “universal spare part.”

    Here is a link to an article and a video of the sheet folding itself into a plane and boat.

    Here’s a link to a little more detailed article about the research.


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