Present – final bachelor (research) project

In my Final Bachelor Project (FBP) I tried to combine the skills and knowledge I gained in the past three years into one project. My FBP took place in the Adaptive Mobility squid with Lightyear as a client. The case I was provided was to use meta-materials, materials that show behavior due to their internal structure instead of material properties, to create a sustainable car seat in which mechanical systems would be replaced by meta-material structures.
The result of my final bachelor project is a system of bi-stable meta-materials that can perform continues computation. I have demonstrated this by constructing a two-bit binary counter that only requires one input. This system could in the future be used as a means to replace the mechanical systems in car seats used nowadays.


Close-up of the two-bit binary counter. A special version of one of the evaluation blocks, mechanical transistors, that makes up part of the second bit.

During my final bachelor project, I applied the reflective transformative design process by Hummels and Frens (Hummels & Frens, 2009). I started off by doing a literature review, to get an overview of the field of meta-material and how I could apply them for my case. The basis for my research was the project done by Amorim et al. where the researchers applied meta-materials for the creation of a personalized shoe sole (Amorim, Nachtigall, & Bruns, 2019). I found it difficult to work alone because there was no one to spar with. In a group, you can defend your ideas to the rest of the group, but when you are on your own, you have to weigh both sides of the argument. This is something I struggled with for most of the beginning of the project. After a while, I got more confident making my own decisions and I was able to accelerate the project. Although not having group members I was able to collaborate with Dr. Daniel Saakes, a professor from id KAIST in South Korea, who was working on a similar topic. This helped a great deal and pushed the project in the right direction.

After analyzing the field of meta-materials, I started to apply the knowledge I had gained to create several prototypes for bi-stable meta-materials. The aim of these prototypes was to create an element that could be set into one of two stable positions. I bounced back and forth between making an analyzing in order to get to the basic element I used during the rest of the process. I found that every iteration I made of a prototype inspired the idea for a new prototype or an improvement over the previous version. To illustrate, the basic element inspired me to make a prototype where the bi-stability would change direction in a 90-degree angle. This prototype, in turn, inspired the idea for a larger modular system for computation.

Some of the goals I set for my final bachelor project turned out not to match the final direction of the project. One of the goals I set was to use Grasshopper, a Rhino plugin for parametric modeling, to generate the meta-materials structures for the car seat. The development of the meta-material elements themselves, however, proved to be the biggest challenge of the project and learning a new CAD tool to make them would have taken away from the final result of the system. Using a parametric modeling tool in the future, to generate a computational system seems like a very viable option, however.  Instead of generating the material structures I spent a lot of time thinking about the design and computational behavior of each of the elements and the system in general. I dove into the design of logic gates and tried to translate the design of transistor-based gates to mechanical versions that worked in my system.

During my final bachelor project, I have learned a lot about what it is like to do a solo project and the challenges that arise. What helped me a lot was to have people I could spar with every once in a while, it is easy to get stuck in your own thinking patterns and listening to someone else’s ideas can help you get a clearer view of the project and the tasks ahead. What kept me on track, was having a clear idea of what outcome I wanted from the project. I knew I wanted to write a design research paper about the system I was making. This directed the activities I undertook and the choices I made during the course of the project. Overall I am very happy with the result, and I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

References

Amorim, D., Nachtigall, T., & Bruns, M. A. (2019). Exploring Mechanical Meta-Material Structures through Personalised Shoe Sole Design. In ACM (Ed.), Proceedings of the 2019 ACM Symposium on Computational Fabrication – SCF’19. https://doi.org/10.1145/3328939.3329001

Hummels, C., & Frens, J. (2009). The reflective transformative design process. Proceedings of the 27th International Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems – CHI EA ’09, 2655. https://doi.org/10.1145/1520340.1520376