Back in February, Skylar Tibbits revealed that he was working on a project called 4D printing. In essence, the technology would allow for 3D printed parts to assemble themselves into usable objects. It's a concept straight out of futurism fiction, but various research facilities are making it into a reality.
Now the TED presentation Tibbits made is online for everybody to watch and enjoy. In the presentation, he talks about his vision for 4D printing and how it has the potential to change everything. He even shows some examples of his early work with the technology:
Stratasys says that it's heavily invested in the future of 4D printing. It's currently researching a new type of material for 3D printers that can self assemble after being printed. Here are the details from the Stratasys blog:
What makes the transformation and self-assembly possible is the breakthrough development of a new material used in multi-material 3D printing by Stratasys Objet Connex 3D Printers. The self-folding material is actually composed of two base materials – one that is water expandable and the second that is not water expandable. The water expandable material, which is still in the R&D phase, is able to absorb water and to be programmed to behave and transform in a specific way. It is a highly hydrophilic material that absorbs water molecules when immersed and can change its volume by more than 150% relative to its dry state. When this material is coupled with the static material it can drive predictable shape transformation of the multi-material 3D printed object. Both materials are printed simultaneously on a Stratasys Objet Connex 3D Printer.
Research into 4D printing is only just getting started, but Tibbits already has some ideas on how 4D printing can benefit certain industries in the short term. The big one is space exploration as self-assembly could help NASA and other space agencies reduce costs by simply sending the parts into space, and then those parts self-assemble into an object at the desired location.
4D printing is certainly exciting, but there's still plenty of potential in 3D printing as well. For instance, we're going to see 3D printed buildings far before we see self-assembled 4D printed buildings. Still, the two technologies will work hand-in-hand to create some undoubtedly amazing things in the future.