Popular Science

This textile's twitching tendrils hint at a future of programmable materials

Responsive environments. No robots needed.
Laminated material environmentally responsive textile design

The Active Textile project uses the natural properties of various materials to create environmentally-responsive textiles without robotics.

Courtesy MIT Self-Assembly Lab, Designtex, and Steelcase

Touching artifacts, in most museums, is not encouraged. And art, on the whole, is not responsive. But from the third floor of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, the view is a little different. From April to October, The Senses: Design Beyond Vision exhibit asks visitors to feel, smell, taste, hear, and otherwise engage with art and design.

It’s a child's (and perhaps a parent’s) dream—guards are present, but rarely intervene. It’s uniquely accessible to museum-goers who may not have the strongest sense of sight. And it’s a compact, organized glimpse at the future of applied materials, an under-appreciated but consequential field at the intersection of design, aesthetics, engineering, chemistry, and physics.

On my first visit to the showcase, with Carol Derby, the vice president of research and, we stopped to pet an . As our hands moved up and down, back and forth, and in broad circles, sensors in the fur triggered symphony orchestra music, filling the room.

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