What the heck is 4D printing?


The fourth dimension in 4D printing refers to materials that are able to change and mutate when exposed to water, temperature changes and/or air to self assemble. 4D object formats have API's (Application Programmers Interfaces) that enable designers to define the characteristics of the materials they are made from, which are then printed using sophisticated chemical calibrations to enable specific attributes and functionality.

Nanotech has been on its way for so long, some people have stopped believing in its potential. It still doesn't seem like a real thing.


What is 4D printing?
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But self-assembly and smart materials haven't been forgotten; in fact, some of the best minds in the world are working on them.

Many are only just getting their heads around the idea of 3D printing but scientists at MIT are already working on an upgrade: 4D printing.

Engineering software developer Autodesk, which collaborated on the project, is looking even further into the future.

"Imagine a scenario where you go to Ikea and buy a chair, put it in your room and it self-assembles," said Carlo Olguin, principal research scientist at the software firm.

Market forces give us the future we deserve, not the future we hope for, and one that includes the banality of self-assembling Ikea furniture is increasingly likely.

The exciting news is that with Autodesk's huge new SF facility and partnership with bioprinter Organovo, real resources are being committed to ideas like self-assembling human scale materials. Imagine a new liver that builds itself inside you when exposed to the water in your body.

Autodesk's Bio/Nano/Programmable Matter division has groups like Project Cyborg, working on a "cloud-based meta-platform of design tools for programming matter across domains and scales."

Skylar Tibbits, director of MIT's new Self-Assembly Lab, has been working with the Autodesk 4D printing group on BioMolecular Self-Assembly. He's also a really cute, really young guy, we feel compelled to note. Watch his awesome TED talk about "Can we make things that make themselves?" here.

Tibbits' TED presentation about 4D printing in Long Beach on February 26 has created a huge buzz around around the 4D printing concept. The technology shown there was developed in collaboration with Autodesk and Stratasys, a Minnesota- and Israel-based maker of 3D printers.

Watching a 4D-printed cubic object assemble itself underwater is a little creepy.

But we'd better get used to it, because it looks like printers that print things that make themselves might be going somewhere.

The device that’s used is a Stratasys 3D printer designed to produce multi-layered materials. Each part will be comprised of a regular rigid plastic layer, along with an outer layer made of “smart” materials. When submerged in water, the “smart” material absorbs and expands, causing the parts to move and form a pre-specified object.

If we combine the processes that natural systems offer intrinsically (genetic instructions, energy production, error correction) with those artificial or synthetic (programmability for design and scaffold, structure, mechanisms) we can potentially have extremely large-scale quasi-biological and quasi-synthetic architectural organisms.
Skylar Tibbits, from blog.ted.com