4-D Printing: The Invention that Built Itself?
CREDIT: Skylar Tibbits
The latest advance in 3-D printing technology might make it possible for underwater structures to build themselves. So-called “4-D printing” is being used by researchers to create materials that transform into geometrical structures all on their own.
Skylar Tibbits, a trained architect and computer scientist at M.I.T., recently announced to the audience at this year’s TED Conference that he’s working with 3-D printing company Stratasys to create this entirely new kind of building material, which, when exposed to an energy source, can fold itself into pre-programmed shapes.
The New York Times technology blog, Bits, reports that the self-folding structures are made of two core materials, a synthetic polymer that doubles in volume when submerged in water, and another polymer that remains rigid in water. When the two polymers are combined and submerged, the expansion of the first polymer drives the joints of the structure to move, creating a preprogramed shape, like this simple cube.
Tibbits and his team at the M.I.T. self-assembly lab believe that this technology will eventually be used to create much larger, more complicated structures. And since the materials being researched can also be activated by light, heat, and sound, companies who adopt this new technology will be able to use a variety of energy sources to create these self-building structures.