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How many tries did it take for an autonomous robot to create the world’s best shock absorber?

Answer: 25,000.

3D printer
Since 2021, the Mechanics of Additively Manufactured Architectures Bayesian Experimental Autonomous Researcher (MAMA BEAR) robot has been tirelessly 3D printing shapes and then squishing them, all in the name of science. Thought up by Keith Brown, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and his team at Boston University’s KABlab, MAMA BEAR is on the hunt for the best structural shape for maximum shock absorption.

MAMA BEAR does this by 3D printing small structures and then measuring their energy absorption as they are squashed in a hydraulic press. The robot then analyzes the results and tweaks the design and tries again, and again, and again. After three years and 25,000 squishes, it has developed a shape that achieves 75 percent energy absorption, surpassing the previous record of 71 percent.

The shape itself looks sort of like a twisted four-leaf clover. The design has an incredibly broad range of applications, and the U.S. Army is already planning to put it to use in the padding in helmets for field soldiers. Meanwhile, MAMA BEAR will continue printing and squishing away to find even better designs.