Digital Materials: Voxel Design, Rapid Assembly, Structural Properties, And Design Methods

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The work presented here contains the first known comprehensive consideration of digital materials. Digital materials rely on a fundamentally new paradigm of manufacturing: Physical objects are composed of many discrete, aligned fundamental building units. Such an object is defined purely by the presence or absence of a physical voxel (3D pixel) at each defined location, and thus is fundamentally digital. This implies that "perfect" objects can be physically fabricated with imperfect tools. As a result, digital materials can be replicated over many generations without degradation. In contrast, existing manufacturing processes make use of electronic digital control systems to fabricate objects from a digital representation, but the physical objects they create are fundamentally continuous (or analog) in nature. The specific contributions of this work fall into four categories: physical voxel design, rapid assembly of digital objects, structural properties thereof, and autonomous design methods. First, potential voxel designs were explored and analyzed for their suitability in a mass digital fabrication process. Microscale interlocking square tile voxels were fabricated and assembled to demonstrate the possibilities in high resolution digital materials. Second, two rapid assemblers were built to demonstrate both serial and parallel voxel deposition techniques. These were used to quickly assemble thousands of voxels into multi-material freeform 3D shapes and show the possibilities of a massively parallel assembly process. Third, the precision and structural properties of objects made of many imperfect discrete units were explored. These experiments demonstrate the viability of precise large-scale multi material digital structures, as well as many inherent possibilities regarding tunable aggregate material properties. Lastly, design automation methods using evolutionary algorithms were explored to directly create blueprints for digital objects to meet high level functional goals. These methods were applied to demonstrate both functional static structures & mechanisms and dynamic locomoting soft robots.

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Digital Materials; Rapid Assembly; Design Automation


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Lipson, Hod

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Kirby, Brian
Stroock, Abraham Duncan

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Mechanical Engineering

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Ph. D., Mechanical Engineering

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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