Feb 21, 2019 | By Thomas

Logic gates are the bricks and mortar of original computers capable of performing any kind of math calculations. These operations are what make all computations possible in your cell phone, computer, gaming console etc. By combining old-school logic gates with 3D printing, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have created “sentient” materials that can respond to changes in their surroundings, even in extreme environments that would destroy electronic components, such as high radiation, heat or pressure.

Pictured (l-r) are LLNL researchers Julie Jackson Mancini, Logan Bekker, Andy Pascall, and Robert Panas. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

Like LEGOs, these 3D printed logic gates could be embedded into any type of architected material and programmed to react to its environment by physically changing shape without the need for electricity.

According to lead researcher Andy Pascal: "If you embedded logic gates into material, that material could sense something about its environment. It’s a way of having a responsive material; we like to call it a ‘sentient’ material — that could have complicated responses to temperature, pressure, etc. The idea is it’s beyond being smart. It’s responding in a controlled, precise way."

A series of mechanical logic gates are 3D-printed using the Large Area Projection Microstereolithography (LAPµSL) method.

Mechanical logic gates could be useful in rovers sent to hostile environments such as Venus, or in low-power computers intended to survive nuclear or electromagnetic pulse blasts that would destroy electronic devices, researchers said. The devices also could be used in robots sent to collect information on nuclear reactors and could be concealed inside just any kind of structure.

LLNL researchers designed the device’s flexure gates that behave like switches. The flexures are chained together and, when stimulated, trigger a cascade of configurations that can be used to perform mechanical logic calculations without external power. The gates themselves work due to displacement, taking in an external binary signal from a transducer, such as a pressure pulse or pulse of light from a fiber optic cable and performing a logical calculation. The result is translated to movement, creating a domino effect throughout all the gates that physically changes the shape of the device.

Putting a new twist on the old technology, LLNL researchers and contributors from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are 3D printing mechanical logic gates.

“Many mechanical logic designs have substantial limitations and you run into fanciful designs that could not be fabricated,” Panas said. “What we’re doing is using these flexures, these flexible elements that are 3D printed, which changes how the logic structure can go together. We eventually realized we needed a displacement logic setup (to transfer information). Surprisingly, it actually worked.”

The flexures’ buckling action allows the structure to be preprogrammed or store information with no need for an auxiliary energy flow, Panas said, making them well-suited for environments with high radiation, temperature or pressures.

“We see this as simple logic being put into high-volume materials, potentially getting readings in places where you can’t normally get data,” Panas said.

At UCLA, former LLNL postdoctoral researcher Jonathan Hopkins used a 3D printing process called two-photon stereolithography, where a laser scans within a photocurable liquid polymer that cures and hardens where the laser shines, to print a set of gates at a sub-micron level.

“Once the structure was printed, we then deformed it in place using different lasers that act as optical tweezers,” Hopkins explained. “We then actuated the switches using those optical tweezers as well. It's a revolutionary new approach for making these materials at the micro-scale.”

Pascall hopes the technology can be used to design secure, personalized control systems, and said plans are to release the design as open source.

“The nice thing about our design is it’s not limited in scale,” Pascall said. “We can go down to an order of several microns up to as big as you need it to be, and it can be rapidly prototyped. This would be a difficult task without 3D printing.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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