Prof. Dr. Patrick Baudisch

Metamaterial Mechanisms

Recently, researchers started to engineer not only the outer shape of objects, but also their internal microstructure. Such objects, typically based on 3D cell grids, are also known as metamaterials. Metamaterials are artificial structures with mechanical properties that are defined by their usually repetitive cell patterns, rather than the material they are made of.

So far, metamaterials were understood as materials—we want to think of them as machines.

We push the concept of metamaterials further by creating objects that allow for controlled directional movement. This allows users to create objects that perform mechanical functions. Our objects thereby implement devices that transform input forces and movement into a desired set of output forces and movement—also known as mechanisms.

We demonstrate metamaterial objects that perform a mechanical function. Such metamaterial mechanisms consist of a single block of material the cells of which play together in a well-defined way in order to achieve macroscopic movement. Our metamaterial door latch, for example, transforms the rotary movement of its handle into a linear motion of the latch. 

We demonstrate pliers from metamaterial with one hinge array in the center which makes the brackets and the handles move with respect to each other. 

We implement a pantograph by chaining multiple metamaterial four-bars. The pantograph holds two pencils. While one pencil is moved by the user to draw, the second pencil moves along and replicates the user’s drawing. 

Our metamaterial Jansen walker consists of a single block of cells—that can walk.

The shearing cell

The key element behind our metamaterial mechanisms is a specialized type of cell, the only ability of which is to shear. Unlike the rigid cell, this shear cell is designed to deform when a force is applied, more specifically to shear, which allows for controlled directional movement.

Metamaterial editor

In order to allow users to create metamaterial mechanisms efficiently we implemented a specialized 3D editor. It allows users to place different types of cells, including the shear cell, thereby allowing users to add mechanical functionality to their objects. To help users verify their designs during editing, our editor allows users to apply forces and simulates how the object deforms in response.

Deeper integration between structural & mechanical functions

While our approach offers tangible benefits for users (e.g., it solves mechanical problems in a single part, thereby eliminates the need for assembly), we see the main promise of this work in that it allows us to achieve a deeper integration between the structural and the mechanical functions of materials.

Ion, A., Frohnhofen, J., Alistar, M., Wall, L., Kovacs, R.Lindsay, J., Lopes, P., Chen, H.-T., and Baudisch, P.
Metamaterial Mechanisms
In Proceedings of UIST'16. Full Paper.

 PDF (2.8 MB) |  Video (75.6 MB)


We thank David Lindlbauer for his insights and for printing many of our prototypes. We also thank Louis Kirsch, Moritz Hilscher, David Stangl, Arthur Silber, Friedrich Horschig and Noel Danz for their contribution to earlier versions of this work. 

We also thank Shapeways for their friendly support via their educational grant program.