A Captivating Vision Of Design’s Final Frontier: Smart Matter

It’s hard to imagine, but one day a class of materials called programmable matter, a.k.a. “smart matter,” could reshape themselves based on our instructions. Right now, we’ve only seen crude experiments like MIT’s early prototypes. But tomorrow, advanced nanomaterials could allow furniture and gadgets to assemble themselves on demand–then drip away when not in use.

[Image: courtesy Universal Everything]
But what will this future actually look like? It’s hard to envision because Hollywood rarely comes up with much beyond black goo. Now the media firm Universal Everything is taking a stab at imagining this future. While generally known for designing visuals for art installations and Coldplay concerts, the firm has released the first in a series of speculative design films. And the inaugural clip offers a poetic vision for how people might interact with smart matter.

“It’s our attempt to invent the future we want to live in,” says creative director Matt Pyke. “The intention is to provoke thought about the positive potential of emerging technologies.”

The clip is very Universal Everything, if you’re familiar with the studio’s work, as it focuses strongly on the movement of a human figure. People seem to dance around the programmable matter, as if in a pagan ballet. “It’s our vision of the ultimate creation tool for architects, designers, and sculptors, something we wished existed now,” says Pyke. “We are optimistic it will happen one day–via augmented reality at first, but eventually, shape-shifting nanomaterials.”

No doubt, Universal Everything’s vision is a lot more artistic than functional. But if you look closely, you really can see these large volumetric shapes ebbing and flowing like a mirror to the human movement. Realistic, it may or may not be. But inspiring? Most definitely.MW