Architect unveils concept of 4D printing at TED conference (w/ video)

February 27, 2013 by Bob Yirka report

(—Skylar Tibbits, architect, artist, computer scientist and director of MIT's Self-Assembly Lab has given a talk at the recent TED conference describing what is being called 4D printing. The new technology, as he explained, involves printing 3D objects that change after they've been printed—a self assembly process whereby printed material forms itself into another shape after being subjected to an energy source, e.g. heat, electricity, light, sound, or as he showcased in his demonstration, submersion in water.

The whole idea is to start with materials that react in predictable ways to . To that end, Tibbits has been working with a company based in Minneapolis called Stratasys—they make 3D printers and recently acquired an Israel materials development company called Objet. The new union has resulted in a collaboration that has led to the development of a material that changes shape in "programmable" ways when submersed in water. To program the material, Tibbits has also been working with . The result is a 3D printable material that when dunked into a tank of water, changes itself into a recognizable shape. A single strand for example, suddenly comes to life and forms the word "MIT" in two dimensions, another pulls itself into an open ended three dimensional cube. This seemingly magical act comes about by programming different parts of the material to respond as desired. A strand for example, is actually composed of a series of stiff chunks connected together by rubberlike material that can bend. To cause an object to shape itself then, means causing the chunks to bend relative to one another at prescribed angles.

It's all part of a whole new science Tibbits said, one that may very well revolutionize the way things are made. Consider materials that can be printed and sent to for self-construction—underwater labs, for example, or research stations in space. Just add light, water or heat, and such structures form themselves into whatever has been preprogrammed from the safety of an ordinary office building. Tibbits describes it as similar to embedding smarts in a material—a way to extend the printing window to after the printer has done its work to allow for of three dimensional objects that are limited only by our imaginations.

Explore further: Engineers pave the way towards 3D printing of personal electronics

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2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 27, 2013
horrible name. nothing 4D about it
1 / 5 (3) Feb 27, 2013
This looks like a sponge-like material that expands when it soaks water. Translating that process under normal conditions out of the water might require a different approach, like packaging them in air tight containers which when opened exposes the contents to the air, causing those contents to self-assemble.
1 / 5 (2) Feb 27, 2013
Construction companies of the future might apply this technology to package self assembling three dimensional building components in large flat cases.

Dig a hole. Put in a foundation. Build a mounting system for the crates to facilitate the unpackaging process. Voila.

Seems like a good thing to use when sending planetary colonies to Mars and beyond.
1 / 5 (3) Feb 27, 2013
This is how all proteins fold themselves after assembly inside all living cells. Good idea, but already used by billions of years.
2 / 5 (4) Feb 27, 2013
And in the ultra-far future incredibly dense building blocks will self-assemble, beginning from the micro-scale through many stages to factory size.
3 / 5 (2) Feb 27, 2013
It's a neat idea.

Especially when you think about that there are certain structures which you can't print with some 3D processes without introducing artificial support structures (which have to be removed later in a laborious process).

And there are even some structures where removal of the support structures is impossible (e.g. enclosed hollows with sharpely tapered sides)

Might also be something for printing stuff that needs to be maneuvered to a spot and then change form (e.g. a printed stent that is introudced into an artery - and when ultrasound energy is applied it balloons up to it's needed configuration)
1 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2013
Oh come on, they just put a nitinol wire through a drinking straw and dunked it in hot water.
2.5 / 5 (2) Feb 27, 2013
He's just printing things that move. No need for a stupid new name and a big fuss for that I would think.

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