Year/Course: 2006-2007, Easter 2007
Mentor: Dr Marc Bax

Contacts: Dr Matthew Santer,Cambridge University Engineering Department
Mentor: Marc Bax

More information:

Dr Santer, working with colleagues at both Cambridge University and MIT, has developed a design for flexible plate structures that are rigid in different configurations. This allows the construction of objects which are flexible, since they change shape, but also rigid, since they hold their shape at each position. Force is needed to change the shape, but each configuration is stable, requiring no force to maintain it. This could have a wide range of uses, from robot hinges which need no power to hold a particular angle, to flexible and foldable display screens.

Each structure will be stable in a range of configurations, taking a surface from flat to tightly folded through progressive step changes in curvature. The current key question for the researchers is what physical scale is important for these systems, so that they can develop and refine the design further.

The design is material-independent, so although initial prototypes are in polymer materials, other materials such as metals or composites can be used. The design is also monolithic, meaning that the structure can be manufactured in a single piece, with no need for assembly of component parts. This should enable future products to be manufactured easily and inexpensively.

The i-Team will need to identify and investigate a wide range of possible uses for this technology, to recommend areas where it brings value, and helping the research team to define the best physical scale at which to focus their ongoing efforts.