Scientists discover material capable of ‘thinking’

·2 min read

Scientists say they have engineered a material that is capable of being able to “think”.

Researchers from Penn State University and the US Air Force built on research stretching back to 1938 to harness the processing of mechanical information, and integrate it into an advanced form of material.

The technology is based on integrated circuits, which typically rely on silicon semiconductors in order to process information in a way that is similar to the role played by the brain in the human body.

The research team discovered that integrated circuits capable of performing computational tasks could be achieved using “nearly any material” around us.

“We have created the first example of an engineering material that can simultaneously sense, think and act upon mechanical stress, without requiring additional circuits to process such signals,” said Ryan Harne, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State.

“The soft polymer material acts like a brain that can receive digital strings of information that are then processed, resulting in new sequences of digital information that can control reactions.”

The material works using reconfigurable circuits that can receive external stimuli and translate them into electrical information, which can then be processed to create output signals.

The team demonstrated the material’s capabilities by having it perform complex arithmetic, but it can also be used to detect radio frequencies to communicate light signals for applications like autonomous search-and-rescue systems.

It could even potentially be used in bio-hybrid materials that can identify, isolate and neutralise airborne pathogens.

The scientists now hope to develop the material so that it can process visual information in the same way it “feels” physical signals.

“We are currently translating this to a means of ‘seeing’ to augment the sense of ‘touching’ we have presently created,” said Professor Harne.

“Our goal is to develop a material that demonstrates autonomous navigation through an environment by seeing signs, following them and manoeuvering out of the way of adverse mechanical forces, such as something stepping on it.”

A study detailing the research was published in the scientific journal Nature on Wednesday.