Imagine that an airbag has disappeared from your car, and its function is taken over by the steering wheel. When you corner on a slippery road, it is harder than metal and fits securely in your hands. But as soon as the car is thrown off the asphalt, the steering column and the surrounding parts of the car turn into shock-absorbing jelly, which compensates for the force of the impact. This is the future predicted by scientists from the University of Michigan, who have developed the structure of the new metamaterial.
The prototype is designed as a lattice of single elements of the "hinge + spacers" type. All loops are conditionally movable, but resist the load, absorb part of the energy transmitted to them, changing their shape, the distance between the cells and the rigidity of the entire system. The properties of the metamaterial do not allow us to call it either soft or hard - it can be anything, and from different sides at the same time.
The development of ingenious materials with desired properties is a challenge today, and the future is already devoted to metastructures. Not a homogeneous substance, not an alloy or a mechanism, but a kind of hybrid. While the product remains at rest, it demonstrates some qualities, but as soon as a load is applied, others are immediately activated. And yes, we can vary the impact to get different results.
The main advantage of the development is that such a structure does not collapse even after a radical change in its properties. And instead of protective disposable bumpers and panels for cars, we can use "eternal dampers". And the reusable rocket stages will take off like a solid barrel of fuel, then safely flop on the ground with a soft pancake. And after a simple recovery procedure, be ready for a new job.