In the November Scientific American Thomas A. Campbell, Skylar Tibbits and Banning Garrett explain how researchers are creating one-piece objects that can change form or function in an intentional, programmable fashion: “robots without the robots,” as one of the authors said. When the authors wrote their article, they had only gone as far as developing proof-of-principle programmable objects—for example, a flat, 3-D printed polymer sheet that folds into an octahedron when submerged in water. Today Tibbits and collaborators, including his colleagues at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Self-Assembly Lab, M.I.T. mathematician Erik Demaine and product designer Christophe Guberan, along with engineers and designers at the materials company Carbitex and the design firm Autodesk revealed shape-changing sheets of wood fiber, textiles, hybrid plastics and carbon fiber. The researchers hope that these new materials show that programmable matter is no longer just a curiosity—it is here and ready for commercial development. Here’s a look at some of those inventions.—The Editors

Programmable Carbon Fiber from Skylar Tibbits on Vimeo.

To make carbon fiber that will morph in response to heat, light or moisture the researchers embedded various materials within a sheet of flexible carbon fiber (CX6) made by Carbitex.
Programmable carbon fiber is being developed in collaboration with Briggs Automotive Company to create morphable car panels to control aerodynamics.