In a paper in the journal Smart Materials and Structures the research group explains how it radically redesigned the airplane. Their new structure is a lightweight lattice frame made of thousands of repetitive, small triangles of matchstick-like struts, covered with a thin polymer layer. Because this "metal material" consists essentially of empty space, it is extremely light ̵
This is not a completely new concept. It was presented a few years ago, but now the researchers have developed a way to manufacture the individual parts for the wing by means of injection molding. They have taken the necessary time to produce each part – a hole cube with small struts along each edge – down from several minutes to just 17 seconds. While the meter-long model they created was hand-mounted, the process was designed to be repetitive, so in the future, small, autonomous robots would be able to assemble the wings.
The possibility of a lightweight-changing wing raises questions about the ideal flight form. With this technology, we might break away from "wings with wings" design and utilize a more efficient configuration – possibly an integrated body and wing structure. If the idea of seeing a flight change form when crossing 30,000 feet alerts you, don't worry yet. This is far from the commercial airline ready. Meanwhile, it also has the potential to restructure other structures, like wing-like blades of wind turbines.