Designing a smart surface – Form, Function, Behavior


The first assignment asks you to consider what a smart surface might look like, what its performance might be, and how it will behave. This research / design project will span three weeks and will function to get your team started and to build your basic skill set. Each week the project scope will increase as a means to support in class discussion and to accelerate your investigation of the course topics. The focus of the 2010 SmartSurfaces course is biomimicry. According to the Biomimicry Guild, the term is defined as an emerging discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Nature and especially evolution give us a robust model to study not only when discussing objects but also when we are exploring the process of design. While there are many examples of organisms that are successful under particular conditions, the course is specifically interested in the ability to solve simultaneous problems relevant to multiple fields of study and as such, your task for the first assignment will be driven by three divergent criteria.

It is our belief that the global problems we currently face are the result of reductive modes of thought that sought to optimize single criteria and conversely this course seeks to bring multiple voices together to explore design able to solve multiple problems with one solution. But before we can attack the big global issues we must first learn how to work in teams and explore this concept at a manageable scale.


• Make a surface that synthesizes the three criteria* selected by your team
• Make a surface comprised of at least 9 interlocking components
• The surface should be no greater than 3’ x 3’ in dimension
• Document the design process as a decision tree
• On your blog, document the team structure and roles, and the various prototypes
• Present the surface and your process at the start of next class (Sep. 16, 2010)

Materials, Tools

The available tools / materials include: chipboard provided (week1), acrylic (week 2, 3), laser cutter, Arduinos (week 2, 3).

Design Criteria

• How was your team able to synthesize the form, function and behavior of the surface?
• How does your team evaluate the surface’s efficiency, durability and economy?
• How does your team value the complexity of the proposal (could it be more simple)?
• How does your team value the spectacle of the proposal?

Project Reporting

In addition to documenting and recording the project, process, and criteria (from above), please include the following issues in your project report:
• Within the constraints of the brief, did the team define a high value problem?
• How were tasks delegated?
• How were the tools, conditions and constraints negotiated?
• How were time, resources and team capabilities negotiated?
• Use a decision tree to aid in the description of the process.


Sept 9 Project 1 handed out.
Sept 16 Multiple attempts, mock-ups and prototypes developed using chip board as a means to describe your surface. For Week 1, the project can be manually operated. Each team will present their surface at the start of class.
Sept 23 Refined prototypes and an interim presentation, with the project utilizing laser cut acrylic and Arduinos. (NOTE: For Weeks 2 and 3, the projects must be autonomous.) Each team will present their surface at the start of class.
Sept 24/25 Future of Technology Conference at Rackham
Sept 30 Finished prototype(s) that are down-selected from previous iterations, and a final presentation. The surfaces must be autonomous. Each team will present the final surface at the start of class.

Grading Criteria

• Quality of your project (see design criteria)
• Quality of the presentations
• Quality of recording/documentation (group report and individual blog)
• Also keep in mind that the quality of your project is directly related to the amount of process that supports the project. Evolution is again the perfect analog to demonstrate this concept, the larger the population the more diverse and robust that population will be.

*Criteria picked at random from:

Bends, Orients, Protects, Holds, Exposes


Folds allow efficient [module] deployment

Structures maximize light absorption

Shapes cover curved surfaces efficiently

Optimally packing spheres

Joints have two degrees of bending freedom

The third is that it is a "surface".

Bethany Glesner, MATSCIE
Jason Prasad, MATSCIE
Alex Carmichael, ARCH
Joyce Tseng, ARCH
Jim Christian, A&D
Chris Parker, A&D

Diana Goulding, MATSCIE
Christopher Sketch, MATSCIE
Patrick Ethen, ARCH
Simon Rolka, ARCH
Betsy Cordes, A&D
Daniel Connors, A&D

Melany Mioduszewski, MATSCIE
Josiah Cornett, MATSCIE
Mo Harmon, ARCH
Keegan Schreider, MATSCIE
Carlo Lorenzetti, A&D
Ekta Shah, A&D

Steven Madsen, MATSCIE
Kevin Yien, MATSCIE
Chris Niswander, ARCH
Jordan Stoewsand-Kryscio, ARCH
Mallory Baran, A&D
Michael Theodore, A&D