A placemat as diet coach

A placemat could become your diet coach or a wristband might remind you to take your daily vitamins. Mundane accessories could soon respond to our needs and desires. All thanks to smart materials, substances whose properties predictably change in response to external stimuli.

Riding this technological wave is an international research collaboration led by TU Delft that aims to leverage new materials to improve society’s well-being and care strategies. The project, called Light.Touch.Matters, is a collaboration between materials scientists and product designers and is comprised of 17 public and private institutions in nine EU countries.  

Light.Touch.Matters centers on a class of materials called piezo-plastics, which have been of special interest of Prof. Pim Groen, Professor of Smart Materials in the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering. When combined with an organic light-emitting diode, or an Oled, the material would reduce a product’s design to the point where the interface is the product, a respectable goal in the design world.

To bridge the smart technology and product design arenas, Dr. Erik Tempelman, Associate Professor of Industrial Design Engineering, stepped in. “People are beginning to understand that in the future, innovation will not only come from in-depth work but will, perhaps, even more come from cooperation across disciplines,” says Tempelman, who is the driving force behind and the coordinator for this project.

In 2011, Tempelman was already involved in his research on nature inspired design, when a colleague told him about a call to tender for research funding from the European Commission. The terms of the research proposal needed to include a structure of international collaborators. Now, the diverse group of researchers and industry professionals are in this together until mid-2016. Tempelman is an advocate on this front. “You know, we’re slowly living in a country that‘s called Europe, but, scientifically, we have always been one continent, and I think, now, it’s important to make really optimal use of that.”

The outlook for Light.Touch.Matters is interesting. As the European Commission had selected it from among 35 European bids, the rest of Europe will be watching. Alongside delivering the final technology and applications, the team needs to also render a collaboration template for future EU-wide groups to learn from. On scientific cooperation, Tempelman theorizes that “materials science is the science of joint forces” and is confident that the broad partnership can deliver.

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