Engineering the Singularity

Chapter 1:Technology:SMASIS

The image above, which I’m using to illustrate this article, is from a patent for the use of a smart material to change the shape of an airfoil (airplane wing). The principal is that when the smart material(a shape memory alloy represented by the blue line in the diagram) is heated, it will change to one shape. and when cooled it reverts back to the previous shape. Thus, the design can be used to control the shape and performance of the wing without the use of additional mechanical methods. In this case, the leading edge of the airfoil provides a new method which allows the plane to actually change the shape of the wing while in flight. It may even be possible to eventually create and train a smart material to activate at operating temperatures, so that a shape change is automatic.

Technology is one of five themes for Steamwonk knowledge sharing. Technology is a wide-ranging description. However, our editorial focus for this theme is narrowly, though not exclusively, SMASIS. This acronym stands for Smart Materials, Activated Structures, and Intelligent Systems. The term was coined by ASME International (American Society for Mechanical Engineers, and they sponsor a yearly SMASIS conference gathering researchers in these areas which some of our editors, including myself, have attended for the past few years. For those unfamiliar with these technologies, shape memory alloys and adaptive structures can act (among other things) as actuators in and of themselves, without mechanical assemblies. They can therefore act as motors, and change shape(Transformers!)due to temperature or electrical inputs.

SMASIS is a range of scientific disciplines and experimentation which are leading the way fore merging technologies. Though it sounds like a James Bond Villain, the acronym SMASIS actually stands for three classifications of study which attempt to encompass key engineering elements of the Singularity. These are Smart Materials, a group of metals, fluids, polymers, and other materials which change physical properties under environmental stimulus; Adaptive Structures, also called activated or smart structures, which change shape and capabilities due to environmental stimulus; and Intelligent Systems, which encompass system designs for these materials and structures.

Recent conferences used focused sessions featuring primarily front running academic researchers of new materials and a few big industry participants and presenters. For example, Boeing and General Motors research folks have spoken and participated. Groups like NASA, and Universities such as Texas A&M(TAMU),Colorado School of Mines, University of North Texas, Purdue, Clemson, and Ohio State attend and present. The topics range from smart materials (polymers, fluids, metals)with fundamental research and standards for the engineering, and modular AI applications to run the systems. The environmental stimulus which induces property changes in these smart materials and activated structures is change in temperature, pressure, electrical charge, magnetic susceptibility, gravity, and even nuclear force. The materials and structures uptake the energy supplied to drive property changes in characteristics such as mechanical strength, electrical resistance, crystal alignment, size, shape, and color.

The CASMART team (Consortium for the Advancement of Shape Memory Alloy Research andTechnology,,has created and consolidated standards and tools for manufacture, forming, processing, and developing shape memory materials that promise to transform our world as extensively and completely as has the internet. Progress in Adaptive Structures and Intelligent Systems will also benefit greatly from newly developed standards and approaches to understanding complex material science. New physics will aid new engineering.

Whether it is new material processing, origami structures, or multifunctional composites, the scope and breadth of these new technologies is fascinating. We see ourselves as an emergent SMASIS community. Launching in the pandemic was not our intention for this first chapter of Steamwonk, but it does serve to highlight the nature and value of the New Renaissance in unique ways. This introduction and first chapter describe the Singularity, expresses our mission and goals for this website, and illustrates an approach to inventing new systems such as a Personal Protection System (PPS). Not all elements of such systems are emerging technology. Some are older technology we want to synergize with new tech to accomplish useful work.

These new materials and structures are modern magic. In fact, the introduction of this kind of emerging technology is often the source of amazing, apparently magical, objects. For example, Uri Geller, an illusionist and magician, was “bending” a metal spoon with his mind in the 90’s and people are still amazed by this stunt today! The spoon was made of a Smart Material, Nickel Titanium, patented for public use by NASA in the 70’s and which when heated by Uri’s finger rubbing action (his mental concentration trick) reconfigured the spoon into a bent shape. A smart material acting as an activated structure. Engineering the precise effect through metal composition and training was the key but it was, and generally still is, poorly understood. This could work to your advantage far beyond amazing your friends or winning a bar bet!

We can use this technology to design incredible systems. The future is now.

Innovate, create, enjoy!!!