Sunday, November 11, 2012

Active Materials for StarCluster 3

by Albert Bailey

Active Plasteel

Active plasteel consists of tiny prismatic elements ("bricks") consisting primarily of plasteel but incorporating other microscopic components that allow the ensemble of prisms to reform for form structures of arbitrary shape.  The length, width, depth of the varies from 0.1 to 0.3 mm in size and each brick is capable of joining electromagnetically with the surrounding bricks to form structures with 80-90% of the strength of regular plasteel.  Each brick has is own tiny EM bottle power supply, magnetic attachment and movement points, optical inter-brick communications, and the ability to emit and reflect light of arbitrary color in discrete directions.  These optical abilities allow any pattern to be created, each brick acting as a separate pixel.  These microelements absorb a small amount of light, making active plasteel slightly absorptive, a 1 cm thickness absorbing about half the light impinging upon it, assuming no active retransmission or absorption.  While active plasteel can form arbitrary shapes, it retains the basic stiffness and hardness of ordinary plasteel.  When active plasteel is severely damaged, it can become "confused" and reform incorrectly.  For this reason, it is not generally used as body armor, since incorrectly reforming active plasteel armor can injure or kill the wearer.

Active Fabric

Active fabric consists of tiny active microfibers of approximately 10 microns across and 10 mm or more in length.  Garments make of active fabric have multiple layers where the fibers within a layer are aligned in a single direction but attach to fibers in other layers aligned in other direction, i.e., they are not usually interwoven like most natural fabrics.  The optical characteristics of each microfiber can be arbitrarily adjusted, allowing a garment to appear with any desired color. The fibers can attach seamless to form an airtight surface, or can attach with spacing giving a garment that can "breathe", with spacings from quite tight to arbitrarily gauzy.  While having a tensile strength close to that of plasteel, active fabrics have low flexural strength and cannot form structures of high rigidity.  Tactile properties can be adjusted to simulate most natural and synthetic fabrics  Thermal conduction units in the fibers allow garments made with active fabrics to heat or cool, though this requires their attachment to a thermal source-sink unit at some location. 

Active Foam

Active foam is a material whose density and rigidity can be controlled by electromagnetic stimulation by control fibers that permeate the foam.  The material can take on a density of 0.01 to 2.0 and can change from a fluid to a soft foam to a material as rigid as dense wood.  Its form is not directly controllable; it is ordinarily used contained within structures of active plasteel and/or active fabric which determine its form.  It is most commonly used for reconfigurable furniture, padding, etc.

Active Flesh

Active flesh is a catch-all term for the various artificial tissues used for producing reconfigurable androids.  Active flesh elements are 1-10 mm each dimension but are able to smoothly configure their shapes and density by up to a factor of three.  Active flesh elements  are normally permanently attached to surrounding elements, the changes in shape being created by the reshaping of each element, rather than repositioning of the elements.  While active flesh units are capable of significant changes in shape, texture, and color, several different types of active flesh are generally used: synth-bone is used to form a reshapable skeleton and teeth, synth-skin for the outer covering, and synth-flesh for the major internal tissues.   Some organs (notably eyes) require specific construction and cannot be workably constructed from generic active flesh tissues.  Synth-skin is usually constructed with artificial hair follicles able to emit or retract synthetic hair or fur.  (If the hair or fur is repeatedly cut, the synth-skin may require replacement.)  Active flesh cannot be made as strong as active plasteel, but can achieve strengths many times that of natural tissues.

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