What Is 4-D Printing? Self-Assembled Design Is Right Around The Corner
Imagine a world in which complex art installations, large-scale manufacturing, and even massive infrastructure projects could take on a life of their own and build themselves. Zap what is seemingly a pile of disorganized constituent parts with electrical stimuli, vibrations, or heat and BOOSH – an entire bridge appears before your very eyes.
This may be less sci-fi dream than you may think, thanks to Skylar Tibbits, the 28-year-old director of the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT. The lab is home to a multidisciplinary team that when combined forms a brilliant heap of scientist-engineer-designer-architects who are imagining a greater role for self-assembly and 4-D manufacturing technology. In the process, they could very well change the world.
Inspired by his experience with the painstaking process of putting together a complex installation for MIT’s 150th anniversary—a surface panel of distorted vaults that took Tibbits and his team close to a month to construct– the inquiring scientist in Tibbits took over. He asked himself: is there a way these materials could be manipulated so as to induce self-assembly?
Skylar Tibbits in the lab.
Of course, self-assembly already exists as a process, often used in nanotechnology. But Tibbits insisted that this process could also be applied to materials on a much larger scale. Tibbits and his team set to work on developing specific geometries for a variety of materials, so that when energy is applied, the substances respond by changing state, resulting in a process of self-assembly.
Shaking materials to activate self-assembly.[images via Tibbits’ vimeo]
One of the ways in which Tibbits and the Self-Assembly Lab are achieving this is through collaboration with the 3-D print tech gurus at Stratasys, who have created an incredible material that transforms upon contact with water. And this is where things get very Ice-nine—Tibbits printed a long strand made of the material within the framework of a particular geometric pattern, so that when submerged in water the self-assembly process is activated, and the strand retracts into a cursive form that reads “MIT.” Check out the process for yourself in the video below.
The Self-Assembly Lab, however, isn’t stopping there. “We think the applications are truly limitless,” says Tibbits in the video above. He and his colleagues are determined to bring the technology out of the prototype stage and into the real world—to accomplish this they’re collaborating with a wide variety of industries in the hopes of applying this fascinating concept to myriad technological innovations.
Stay tuned, because the 4-D world of self-assembling toys, pipelines, and even massive architectural projects could become a reality sooner than you might think.
[via Fast Company]