Have you ever noticed a phenomenon in nature, and imagined how it could be applied in your world? Kon-Well Wang, the Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and his team at the University of Michigan, have.
They noticed the way a mimosa plant's leaves retract every time you touch them. Where you or I may have seen pretty folding leaves, Wang and his team saw advancements in aviation and robotics.
Plastic ManThe variable-sweep wings on an F-14 Tomcat, for example, are about the closest thing in aviation today to the possibilities Wang's team envisioned. But a Tomcat's wings are based on mechanistic, solid-state technology. Wang's team is talking about creating hyper-cellular structures with circulatory networks - which will make a Tomcat's wings look ever so 20th Century. Wang's wings will more closely resemble a bird's than a modern day airplane's, as they'll be able to adapt to their environment or situation.
The same kind of technology should also assist in the development of robots that can change shape and size - a little like Plastic Man, only they'll be robots, not superheroes.
Here's a quick synopsis from the University of Michigan team: