• Engineers at the University of Missouri have designed a new artificial material that can respond to its environment in real time.
  • Having a material that has the ability to sense, decide and act could revolutionize a number of industries.
  • The material uses a computer chip to control or manipulate the processing of information that’s needed to perform the requested actions, then uses the electrical power to convert that energy into mechanical energy.

Scientists have developed an artificial material called a metamaterial that can respond to its environment, independently make a decision, and perform an action without direction from a human.

For example, a drone making a delivery might evaluate its environment including wind direction, speed, or wildlife, and automatically change course in order to complete the delivery safely.

Guoliang Huang, professor of engineering at the University of Missouri and coauthor of the study in Nature Communications, says the mechanical design of their new artificial material incorporates three main functions also displayed by materials found in nature—sensing; information processing; and actuation, or movement.

Some examples of these natural materials include the quick reaction of a Venus flytrap’s leafy jaws to capture an insect, chameleons changing the color of their skin to blend into their surroundings, and pine cones adjusting their shapes in response to changes in air humidity, Huang says.

a diagram showing how the material works
Having a material that has the ability to sense, decide and act could revolutionize a number of industries.
Image: Nature

“Basically, we are controlling how this material responds to changes in external stimuli found in its surroundings,” Huang says. “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.”

The material uses a computer chip to control or manipulate the processing of information that’s needed to perform the requested actions, then uses the electrical power to convert that energy into mechanical energy. The researchers’ next step is to implement their idea in a real-world environment.

Artificial Intelligence

What is the World Economic Forum doing about AI?

In 2019, the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution convened an informal multi-stakeholder group of leaders, known as the Global AI Council (GAIC) a keen interest in creating positive futures with advanced AI systems.

One of the goals of the Council is to provide strategic guidance to the global community on the priorities for AI governance and cooperation as well as the policy implications linked to advances in AI.

The project is taking place over several months and brings together a diverse group of individuals that includes science-fiction authors, economists, policymakers, and AI experts.

The council aims to open up the possibilities for its Positive AI Economic Futures using the creativity and expertise of these participants as well as opening up the process to a much wider range of contributors.

It is also in the process of initiating a second thread of the project, running in parallel with the workshops: a movie competition in partnership with the XPRIZE Foundation. Participants will create short movies showcasing their ideas for a future economy in a concrete form that speaks to individual aspirations and fears.

Additional coauthors are from the University of Missouri and the University of Chicago.

Funding comes from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Army Research Office, and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.