MIT creates 3D-printed objects that can detect and react to force

by Liam Turner
3d-printed single-material mechanism created by MIT

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a 3D-printed single-material mechanism that detects and responds to the application of force.

The technology allows designers to rapidly prototype ‘interactive input devices’ – such as a joystick, switch, or handheld controller – which could be squeezable or bendable, for example.

To create the technology, electrodes were integrated into metamaterials – those divided into a grid of repeating cells – with the help of a newly developed editing software.

The flexible cells are able to stretch or compress, calculating the magnitude and direction of forces, as well as rotation and acceleration.

To demonstrate the technology, MIT created a joystick able to play PAC-MAN by sensing the direction and magnitude of each applied force.

The university says the technology could be used to create bespoke handles for people with limited grip.

Jun Gong, former MIT student and research scientist at Apple, said: “Metamaterials can support different mechanical functionalities.

“But if we create a metamaterial door handle, can we also know that the door handle is being rotated, and if so, by how many degrees?

“If you have special sensing requirements, our work enables you to customise a mechanism to meet your needs.”

Senior author Stefanie Mueller – who is an associate professor in EECS and a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory – added: “What I find most exciting about the project is the capability to integrate sensing directly into the material structure of objects.

“This will enable new intelligent environments in which our objects can sense each interaction with them.

“For instance, a chair or couch made from our smart material could detect the user’s body when the user sits on it and either use it to query particular functions, such as turning on the light or TV, or to collect data for later analysis, such as detecting and correcting body posture.”

Main image: A 3D-printed single-material mechanism created by MIT. Credit: MIT


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