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The mind-boggling potential of 4D printing

posted 12 November 2014 at 15:11:46

3D printing has just entered the fourth dimension. The US army is funding research at several universities in developing the technology that can 3D print objects that are able to change their shape and/or appearance over time, after they have been printed.  

Scientists led by Dan Raviv at MIT have successfully printed objects using two materials with different properties, such as a hard plastic and a water absorbent material. When immersed in water, the objects increased in volume. The water-absorbent material acted like joints that stretched and folded, thus changing the shape of the overall object. Imagine applying this technology to army camouflage gear so that it can change colour to suit the surroundings and to clothing and shoes that can adapt to heat, cold, or rain.  

And it’s not just the army that would benefit from this technology – thinking of how it could be applied to our everyday lives is mind-boggling. And the potential for medical applications is also huge. It’s early days still, but watch this space!

Picture: MIT – Dan Raviv and Skylar Tibbits