Imagine an insert for a round hole that becomes square when illuminated, and when heated, fits a triangular notch. Quite a stupid thing, unlike the very technology of metamaterials with the function of switching between programmed stable forms. It was developed at the University of Colorado in a team led by Distinguished Scientist Christopher Bowman.
The new material consists of new components - liquid crystal elastomers. It is a mesh structure with a flexible elastomer lattice, inside the cells of which liquid crystals are located. They have the property of self-organization and change of state under the influence of light and heat, and the movements of individual crystals force them to change their shape and their frame, which is why the whole structure starts to move.
In the simplest example, a semblance of an origami figurine in the shape of a swan was made from the new material. This is a rather complex, three-dimensional construction, with pronounced detail. Then the figurine was heated to 93 ° C and it unfolded, turned into a flat sheet, which, when cooled down, folds back into a swan on its own. So far, scientists have the ability to program only two stable states, but this is a matter for further research.
The technology is purely experimental and there is no talk of its commercial application at all. No spy bracelets will appear tomorrow, which will transform into a pistol if you shine a flashlight on them. And the performance properties of new materials leave much to be desired. But imagine an artificial muscle that contracts and stretches without energy, or a robot arm that doesn't require servos to switch between operating states. Technology of the future!