Like something out of Terminator 2, researchers are developing techniques for warfare of the future to create materials that self-assemble or alter their shape, perform a function and then disassemble themselves. These capabilities offer the possibility for morphing aircraft and ground vehicles, uniforms that can alter themselves in any climate, and “soft” robots that flow like mercury through small openings to enter caves and bunker complexes.
Several university teams, including Harvard, Cornell, and MIT, are working on different approaches to create „programmable matter“—made of individual pieces that can self-assemble into tools or spare parts. One of the approaches being examined uses sheets of self-folding material that can form three-dimensional shapes on command.
A revolutionary new technology in being developed by DARPA that may allow future war leaders to command their equipment to physically change itself to meet new operational needs or to form spare parts or tools.
“You’re blurring the distinction between materials and machines. Materials act like computers and communications systems, and communications systems and computers act like materials,” program manager Dr. Mitchell R. Zakin says.