MIT Unveils Plans For 4D Printing

The printer would incorporate time as the fourth dimension, with 3D printed structures changing their form when activated.

3D printing is poised to disrupt nearly every industry, with applications ranging from replicating organs to constructing houses. But now MIT is looking even further into the future by introducing the idea of 4D printing.

MIT lecturer Skylar Tibbits, the founder of it’s new Self-Assembly Lab, unveiled the technology at the TED conference in Long Beach, California. 4D printing incorporates time as the fourth dimension, with 3D printed structures changing their form when activated.

MIT Is Researching 4D Printing

He demonstrated a collaboration with 3D printing company Stratasys to create strands of material that fold themselves into pre-designed shapes when placed in water. The NY Times reports:

The self-folding structures are first printed out as long strands made of two core materials in combination — a synthetic polymer that can expand to more than twice its volume in water, and another polymer that is rigid in water. By carefully combining the two materials using specific blueprints, the expansion of the water-absorbing substance drives the joints to move, creating a predetermined geometrical transformation.

The speed of this transformation depends on the water temperature and the properties of the water-absorbing material. Tibbits’ research shows the potential of programmable materials for manufacturing in the future, as these creations would be useful when building things like underwater structures. You can check out a self-folding strand in the video below:

Skylar Tibbits

Photo by TED Conference

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