A reprogrammable mechanical metamaterial with stable memory

Nature 589, 386–390 (2021)


Metamaterials are designed to realize exotic physical properties through the geometric arrangement of their underlying structural layout. Traditional mechanical metamaterials achieve functionalities such as a target Poisson’s ratio or shape transformation through unit-cell optimization, often with spatial heterogeneity. These functionalities are programmed into the layout of the metamaterial in a way that cannot be altered. Although recent efforts have produced means of tuning such properties post-fabrication, they have not demonstrated mechanical reprogrammability analogous to that of digital devices, such as hard disk drives, in which each unit can be written to or read from in real time as required. Here we overcome this challenge by using a design framework for a tileable mechanical metamaterial with stable memory at the unit-cell level. Our design comprises an array of physical binary elements (m-bits), analogous to digital bits, with clearly delineated writing and reading phases. Each m-bit can be independently and reversibly switched between two stable states (acting as memory) using magnetic actuation to move between the equilibria of a bistable shell. Under deformation, each state is associated with a distinctly different mechanical response that is fully elastic and can be reversibly cycled until the system is reprogrammed. Encoding a set of binary instructions onto the tiled array yields markedly different mechanical properties; specifically, the stiffness and strength can be made to range over an order of magnitude. We expect that the stable memory and on-demand reprogrammability of mechanical properties in this design paradigm will facilitate the development of advanced forms of mechanical metamaterials.


Nature News and View / Corentin Coulais: A device has been developed that consists of mechanical bits, analogous to the magnetic bits used in computer hard drives. Information encoded in the bits programs the mechanical properties of the device.

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