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4D Printing Produces Materials That Regulate Themselves

The parts literally assemble themselves.
February 27, 2013, 3:20pm

Skylar Tibbits wants the machines to assemble themselves. Image: Ryan Lash/TED2013

That 3D printing bandwagon you've been waiting to jump on? Sorry, it's already out of date. An MIT researcher has invented something better. That's right, 4D printing is on the way. There are robots involved.

Skylar Tibbits is said egghead, and he described his new 4D printing process at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California this week. Tibbits is an architecture professor at MIT and founder of the university's new Self-Assembly Lab. That's a good way of thinking about 4D printing: the parts literally assemble themselves. The process involves using 3D printing technology to produce individual parts that can move, adapt, and join together on their own accord, sometimes sparked by a simple drop of water. They work kind of like Magic Grow animals, only better.

Think big with this idea. Tibbits is. "Imagine if water pipes could expand or contract … or even undulate to move the water themselves," he said at TED. And if the more complex you build the systems, the more sophisticated the outcome. In the beginning, Tibbits and team will be working on things like self-assembling furniture. In the long-run, everyone will be pie-eyed over 4D printings possibilities. "This is like robotics without wires or motors," Tibbits said.

But don't just take my word for it, because you can see a demo for yourself. The future is looking self-aware, folks: