Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Inanimate objects moving without motors or internal combustion engines

Imagine a strip of flexible plastic film that walks and flails about without anyone pushing it. That's exactly what chemists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan, have created.

Good-bye, motors and internal combustion engines?

Maybe not. Or maybe, just maybe, someday. After all, living things move without either of the above.

But even if we manage to do away with motors and engines, we'll still need some form of energy for propulsion. (Remember, you can't create energy. You can only change it from one form to another.)

The plastic strips the chemists developed needed energy in the form of light before they could move.

In fact, the chemists had to use two kinds of light: visible and ultraviolet. They had made the film from a polymer that changes its orientation depending on the kind of light that shines on it.

When visible light falls on this polymer, the polymer bends. Under UV light, it flattens. By pointing visible and UV lights at strategic places on the film at well-timed intervals, the chemists made the film curl and straighten, and seemingly sally forth on its own accord.

Imagine the possible applications if this technology reaches the market. The leader of the group that made the film mentions "light-to-mechanical energy conversion," which sounds quite innocuous until you realize he is talking about a way to make objects mobile.

Here are a couple of videos that show how the film traveled:

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