General Motors recently demonstrated its latest development in the field of smart materials during a media event at its R&D center. New technologies such as shape memory alloys and polymers are just some of the new materials that GM is investigating for future use in its cars. The materials get their name from their ability to change shape, stiffness or strength when either heat, stress, electric current or a magnetic field is applied and can then return to its former state when the stimulus is removed.
These new materials could eventually lead to many possible movable features in cars, and we may even see the first production examples as early as 2010. Such possibilities include buttons and handles that automatically pop out when required, active surfaces that can move depending on vehicle speed to aid aerodynamics, and light-weight actuators and sensors that could replace the heavy motors and hydraulic systems found in today’s cars.
GM’s executive director of R&D Alan Taub also hinted at the possibility of vehicles that can self-heal in the event of damage, or can be designed to change color or appearance at the touch of a button.