Some assembly required may soon be replaced
with “Just Add Water.” 3D printers. I never get tired of thinking about all the possible applications, like building a brand new coffee table, or building a brand new 3D printer,
or finally getting that Strickland action figure everyone’s been asking for. But all
of these great products have one thing in common – rigidity. That means they’re going
to keep that shape once I print them, unless I take a flamethrower to them, or maybe a
hacksaw. But the advent of something called 4D printing could turn all of that on its
head! That’s right, it’s one “D” better! Actually, it’s not just a catch phrase, 4D printing
is really about using a 3D printer to print out self-reconfiguring, programmable material.
Now imagine this. You have a non-living object that can change its shape and behavior over
time. It’s kind of like a robot, but there are no microprocessors, no circuit boards,
no motors – in fact to you it looks like a string of plastic. But you toss it into a
kiddie pool, and upon contact with water you now have a secret message spelled out in plastic
cursive! Skylar Tibbits, the man who really came up with this idea of 4D printing, has
gone even further. He’s created programmable sheet material. It’s a sheet of plastic that,
when submerged in water, can clench up into the shape of a cube. And a cube is just the
beginning! More complex designs will mean millions of more shapes – like self-folding
origami! In the near future, imagine a smart grid of plumbing, with pipes that can actually
expand and contract in response to water demand. Or maybe even heal if there is a frozen segment
that breaks open. Or imagine self assembling furniture. Print out a flat board and just
add water, next thing you know it curls up into a rocking chair. Now, wrap your mind
around how useful this would be in a really hostile environment, like low Earth orbit,
where building stuff comes at a high cost and a high risk. Now the prototypes we have
seen so far have been pretty simple, but the promises are amazing! Think about it on the
really big scale. What about skyscrapers and bridges. If we could make them out of smart
materials like smart beams and smart bricks, they could heal themselves after weather damage or prepare for something massive like an earthquake. Or we flip it. We go on to the very small
scale and now we have micro particles moving around in our bodies, maintaining our health.
You might be wondering, how much complexity can build up our of stuff that changes its
shape without computers or electromechanical motors. Lets think about proteins for a second. Proteins are pretty much what make any basic animal function possible on a cellular level.
An a protein is really self-reconfiguring material. It’s a polypeptide. It’s a long
chain of amino acids. So once again we’re playing Copy Cat to mother nature. Now lets
not get ahead of ourselves, I’m not actually suggesting that we’re going to be printing
out some sort of plastic replicant that can gain self-awareness and yearn for more life.
But maybe we will. In fact, it’s hard for us to predict right now. We’re just seeing
the very beginning of this technology, and the complexity could become truly amazing.
So, how would you use 4D printing? Let us know! Leave a comment below, we promise we’re
going to read every single one of them and while your there why don’t you like the video
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