Kansas State University Engineer Secures Major Grant for Pioneering Shape-Shifting Structures Using Machine Learning

By Trish Svoboda

An engineer from Kansas State University, Raj Kumar Pal, is working on the design of adaptable building blocks that can transform their shape without the need for human intervention.

As an assistant professor in the Alan Levin Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, Pal has been awarded a grant exceeding $400,000 from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, a division of the U.S. Department of Defense, through the Young Investigator Program. This funding will support his three-year project titled “Reservoir Computing Metamaterials for Dynamically Reconfigurable Structures.”

The project’s objective is to address the enduring problem of creating structures capable of changing their shape and adjusting to their surroundings. To achieve this, the project will employ a form of machine learning known as reservoir computing.

“The structures we’re designing have applications in diverse areas, such as space satellites and medical robots, where structures need to fold or unwarp in a predictable way without human intervention,” Pal said. “Current approaches require complex actuators, can achieve only a limited set of configurations or are prone to reaching incorrect configurations. Our approach will draw upon ideas from reservoir computing and use dynamic, time-varying forces as a means to achieve shape change.”

The project will also provide an opportunity for both undergraduate and graduate students to engage in advanced research on the design of shape-shifting structures while equipping them with skills in high-speed imaging and multi-physics computations.

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