Researchers are combining different types of plastics and fibres to create ‘smart’ materials that change shape when they come into contact with stimuli such as heat or water.
Objects designed in this way can expand, fold or unfurl into predesigned forms after being printed, in a process dubbed 4D printing.
Skylar Tibbits, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is pioneering the research with Stratasys, a digital manufacturing company.
“We asked if we could print things that change shape and change properties to behave in precise programmed ways. We call it 4D because it adds time [considered the fourth dimension], rather than printing static objects,” Tibbits said.
Jesse Louis-Rosenberg, from Nervous System design studio in Somerville, Massachusetts, said he hoped to use 4D printing to create a dress that could be printed in compact form then unfolded.
Using a scan of the customer’s body, the dress could be designed to fit perfectly and would be created with a series of tessellating segments.
A computer model would then compress the design into the smallest possible space to fit inside a normal 3D printer. The customer would simply download the design, print it and unfurl it.