UCLA's MNN Project Is Rapidly Advancing AI As We Know It

Steve Huff
Steve Huff is an Editor and Reporter at dot.LA. Steve was previously managing editor for The Metaverse Post and before that deputy digital editor for Maxim magazine. He has written for Inside Hook, Observer and New York Mag. Steve is the author of two official tie-ins books for AMC’s hit “Breaking Bad” prequel, “Better Call Saul.” He’s also a classically-trained tenor and has performed with opera companies and orchestras all over the Eastern U.S. He lives in the greater Boston metro area with his wife, educator Dr. Dana Huff.
AI robot face
courtesy of Andria Moore

Imagine that early one morning, you receive an earthquake warning, register the alert, shrug, and go back to sleep because your building knows how to handle quakes. It's been through them before and has learned how to adjust to the experience. This may seem like a sci-fi scenario, but a team of UCLA mechanical engineers has recently created a new material that can adapt to changing circumstances through artificial intelligence.

The material, composed of a latticework of “tunable” beams that can change shape and behavior over time, was dubbed MNN for mechanical neural network. Per a report published Wednesday in Science Robotics, MNN could one day be used in a wide variety of ways, including embedding it in the construction of buildings or airplanes.

The study, authored by UCLA’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department members, stated that the material could adapt and alter itself in reaction to dynamic conditions. According to lead researcher Jonathan B. Hopkins, “research introduces and demonstrates an artificial intelligent material that can learn to exhibit the desired behaviors and properties upon increased exposure to ambient conditions.”

Hopkins writes that the team taught the material how to adapt by borrowing algorithms from the artificial neural networks (ANNs) that power machine learning. MNN is made of beams that can independently adjust themselves woven together. According to the paper, this system has been enabled so it can “change its length, adapt to its changing environment in real time and interact with other beams in the system.”

A UCLA press release about the AI material stated that it is “about the size of a microwave oven,” but researchers will continue simplifying MNN by reducing it to “micro scale” in mind—meaning they are aiming at making it useful in a variety of practical ways.

According to the release, possibilities for future AI material uses—in addition to construction and aircraft engineering—include infusing a type of tactical armor with MNN to handle shockwaves. Which raises the possibility of tactical gear that can deflect the force of projectiles. That’s a sci-fi scenario as well, but one that’s slightly more intimidating than buildings that can withstand an earthquake.

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LA’s Newest E-Scooter Startup Was Founded and Funded By a City Native. Can It Compete with Its Deep-Pocketed Rivals?

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
Yahya Dabbagh
Image by Maylin Tu

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This Year’s Techstars’ Demo Day Included Robot Bartenders and Towable Rockets
Andria Moore

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Derek Jeter’s Sports Trading Card Company Brings in $10M

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

sports trading cards
Arena Club /Andria Moore

Sports trading card platform Arena Club has raised $10 million in Series A funding.

Co-founded by CEO Brian Lee and Hall of Fame Yankees player Derek Jeter, Arena Club launched its digital showroom in September. Through the platform, sports fans can buy, sell, trade and display their card collections. Using computer vision and machine learning, Arena Club allows fans to grade and authenticate their cards, which can be stored in the company’s vault or delivered in protective “slabs.” Arena Club intends to use the new cash to expand these functions and scale its operations.

The new funding brings Arena Club’s total amount raised to $20 million. M13, defy.vc, Lightspeed Ventures, Elysian Park Ventures and BAM Ventures contributed to the round.

“Our team is thankful for the group of investors—led by M13, who see the bright future of the trading card hobby and our platform,” Lee said in a statement. “I have long admired M13 and the value they bring to early-stage startups.”

M13’s co-founder Courtney Reum, who formed the early-stage consumer technology venture firm in 2016 alongside his brother Carter Reum, will join Arena Club’s board. Reum has been eyeing the trading card space since 2020 when he began investing in what was once just a childhood hobby.

The sports trading card market surged in 2020 as fans turned to the hobby after the pandemic brought live events to a standstill. Since then, prices have come down, though demand remains high. And investors are still betting on trading card companies, with companies like Collectors bringing in $100 million earlier this year. Fanatics, which sells athletic collectibles and trading cards, reached a $31 billion valuation after raising $700 million earlier this week. On the blockchain, Tom Brady’s NFT company Autograph lets athletes sell digital collectibles directly to fans.

As for Arena Club, the company is looking to cement itself as a digital card show.

“Providing users with a digital card show allows us to use our first-class technology to give collectors from all over the world the luxury of being able to get the full trading card show experience at their fingertips,” Jeter said in a statement.