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  1. The design of amorphous entangled systems, specifically from soft and active materials, has the potential to open exciting new classes of active, shape-shifting, and task-capable ‘smart’ materials. However, the global emergent mechanics that arise from the local interactions of individual particles are not well understood. In this study, we examine the emergent properties of amorphous entangled systems in an in silico collection of u-shaped particles (“smarticles”) and in living entangled aggregate of worm blobs ( L. variegatus ). In simulations, we examine how material properties change for a collective composed of smarticles as they undergo different forcing protocols. We compare three methods of controlling entanglement in the collective: external oscillations of the ensemble, sudden shape-changes of all individuals, and sustained internal oscillations of all individuals. We find that large-amplitude changes of the particle's shape using the shape-change procedure produce the largest average number of entanglements, with respect to the aspect ratio ( l / w ), thus improving the tensile strength of the collective. We demonstrate applications of these simulations by showing how the individual worm activity in a blob can be controlled through the ambient dissolved oxygen in water, leading to complex emergent properties of the living entangled collective, such as solid-like entanglement and tumbling. Our work reveals principles by which future shape-modulating, potentially soft robotic systems may dynamically alter their material properties, advancing our understanding of living entangled materials, while inspiring new classes of synthetic emergent super-materials. 
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  2. Robot locomotion is typically generated by coordinated integration of single-purpose components, like actuators, sensors, body segments, and limbs. We posit that certain future robots could self-propel using systems in which a delineation of components and their interactions is not so clear, becoming robust and flexible entities composed of functional components that are redundant and generic and can interact stochastically. Control of such a collective becomes a challenge because synthesis techniques typically assume known input-output relationships. To discover principles by which such future robots can be built and controlled, we study a model robophysical system: planar ensembles of periodically deforming smart, active particles—smarticles. When enclosed, these individually immotile robots could collectively diffuse via stochastic mechanical interactions. We show experimentally and theoretically that directed drift of such a supersmarticle could be achieved via inactivation of individual smarticles and used this phenomenon to generate endogenous phototaxis. By numerically modeling the relationship between smarticle activity and transport, we elucidated the role of smarticle deactivation on supersmarticle dynamics from little data—a single experimental trial. From this mapping, we demonstrate that the supersmarticle could be exogenously steered anywhere in the plane, expanding supersmarticle capabilities while simultaneously enabling decentralized closed-loop control. We suggest that the smarticle model system may aid discovery of principles by which a class of future “stochastic” robots can rely on collective internal mechanical interactions to perform tasks. 
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  3. Self-organization is frequently observed in active collectives as varied as ant rafts and molecular motor assemblies. General principles describing self-organization away from equilibrium have been challenging to identify. We offer a unifying framework that models the behavior of complex systems as largely random while capturing their configuration-dependent response to external forcing. This allows derivation of a Boltzmann-like principle for understanding and manipulating driven self-organization. We validate our predictions experimentally, with the use of shape-changing robotic active matter, and outline a methodology for controlling collective behavior. Our findings highlight how emergent order depends sensitively on the matching between external patterns of forcing and internal dynamical response properties, pointing toward future approaches for the design and control of active particle mixtures and metamaterials.

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