Smaterial: manipulations of thermomagnetic programmable matter

Programmable matter can change its shape, stiffness or other physical properties upon command. Previous work has shown contactless optically controlled matter or magnetic actuation, but the former is limited in strength and the latter in spatial resolution. Here, we show an unprecedented level of control combining light patterns and magnetic fields. A mixture of thermoplastic and ferromagnetic powder is heated up at specific locations that become malleable and are attracted by magnetic fields. These heated areas solidify on cool down, and the process can be repeated. We show complex control of 3D slabs, 2D sheets, and 1D filaments with applications in tactile displays and object manipulation. Due to the low transition temperature and the possibility of using microwave heating, the compound can be manipulated in air, water, or inside biological tissue having the potential to revolutionize biomedical devices, robotics or display technologies.

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