The first proof of concept came from a just-add-H20 molecules experiment: a strand of unformed printed pieces that morphed into the MIT logo once submerged in water. Everything was programmed ahead of time, so that it only took a change in elements (the water) to create a new shape, and therefore a new product.
The potential effect of such shape-shifting powers is limitless on everything from consumer goods to biomedical practices, the aerospace industry to sports. “You can imagine garments or shoes that respond to the athlete and the environment," Tibbits tells Co.Design. "Tires could respond to road conditions, rather than consumers needing different tires for different surfaces.”
For him, the ultimate goal is on a macro scale--applying 4-D printing to reduce energy and labor costs in manufacturing.
The 4-D process requires two kinds of materials: static and active. The static material acts as the geometric structure, and the active material contains the energy and information that prompts the object’s transformation. Tibbits designs the size and placement of the active material using Autodesk’s Project Cyborg software. A Connex Multi-Material printer from Stratasys will then deposit the two materials simultaneously.
Of course, MIT scored a major coup in making objects that bounce into new forms once underwater. And along with the team’s largest future plans for the technology--to change the shape of global manufacture--you can also see how less ambitious iterations would refine or even lead into extinction the user experience of say, assembling furniture from Ikea.