Supplementing materials directly with sensors could increase autonomic capabilities
The authors of the ERCIM News article "Materials with Intelligence" (by Simon Dobson and Kieran Delaney) already agree that sensor networks are probably the key enabling technology to build systems that adapt autonomously to their environment without direct human intervention. And to construct the most effective sensor networks, we need to be able to create "augmented materials" -- where sensing, actuation, and processing is built right into the fabric of objects.
Which is what researchers at the School of Computer Science and Informatics at UCD-Dublin and the Centre for Adaptive Wireless Systems at Cork IT are starting to do.
Embedding sensing into a physical substrate has some benefits, according to the authors: "Each sensor package can sense a number of local variables such as the stress on the material, its orientation in space, its proximity to other materials ... Combine these sensors into a network and we can construct a global view of the material and its relationships to the real world. Add processing and we have the potential to build materials that 'know themselves' in some sense, and which can react in ways that are far more sophisticated than are possible with simpler 'smart' materials."
(We first approached this topic in "Will senses be a catalyst for machine intelligence.")