Hasso-Plattner-Institut25 Jahre HPI
Hasso-Plattner-Institut25 Jahre HPI

Alexandra Ion

Metamaterial Devices

Digital fabrication machines such as 3D printers excel at producing arbitrary shapes, such as for decorative objects. In recent years, 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 known as metamaterials. Metamaterials have been used to create materials that, e.g., change their volume, or have variable compliance.

While metamaterials were initially understood as materials, we propose to think of them as devices.

We argue that thinking of metamaterials as devices enables us to create internal structures that offer functionalities to implement an input-process-output model without electronics, but purely within the material's internal structure. In this thesis, we investigate three aspects of such metamaterial devices that implement parts of the input-process-output model: (1) materials that process analog inputs by implementing mechanisms based on their microstructure, (2) that process digital signals by embedding mechanical computation into the object's microstructure, and (3) interactive metamaterial objects that output to the user by changing their outside to interact with their environment. The input to our metamaterial devices is provided directly by the users interacting with the device by means of physically pushing the metamaterial, e.g., turning a handle, pushing a button, etc.

The design of such intricate microstructures, which enable the functionality of metamaterial devices, is not obvious. The complexity of the design arises from the fact that not only a suitable cell geometry is necessary, but that additionally cells need to play together in a well-defined way. To support users in creating such microstructures, we research and implement interactive design tools. These tools allow experts to freely edit their materials, while supporting novice users by auto-generating cells assemblies from high-level input. Our tools implement easy-to-use interactions like brushing, interactively simulate the cell structures' deformation directly in the editor, and export the geometry as a 3D-printable file. Our goal is to foster more research and innovation on metamaterial devices by allowing the broader public to contribute.