Skylar Tibbits’ TED Talk on 4D printing

“The big idea is to create objects that can change after they are printed, making them self-adapting. The act of printing is no longer the end of the creative process but merely a waypoint.” – Skylar Tibbits

When we wrote about 4D printing a little over a month ago, we knew that Skylar Tibbits had just given a terrific talk on the subject at TED in Long Beach, but the video wasn’t yet available on the web to show you. Today it’s popped up on Youtube, and you can watch it here.

What exactly is 4D printing, as opposed to 3D printing? Here’s how Tibbits’ describes it in his TED Talk:

So today for the first time, we’re unveiling a new project, which is a collaboration with Stratasys, and it’s called 4D printing. The idea behind 4D printing is that you take multi-material 3D printing — so you can deposit multiple materials — and you add a new capability, which is transformation, that right off the bed, the parts can transform from one shape to another shape directly on their own. And this is like robotics without wires or motors. So you completely print this part, and it can transform into something else.

We also worked with Autodesk on a software they’re developing called Project Cyborg. And this allows us to simulate this self-assembly behavior and try to optimize which parts are folding when. But most importantly, we can use this same software for the design of nanoscale self-assembly systems and human scale self-assembly systems. These are parts being printed with multi-material properties. Here’s the first demonstration. A single strand dipped in water that completely self-folds on its own into the letters M I T. I’m biased. This is another part, single strand, dipped in a bigger tank that self-folds into a cube, a three-dimensional structure, on its own. So no human interaction. And we think this is the first time that a program and transformation has been embedded directly into the materials themselves. And it also might just be the manufacturing technique that allows us to produce more adaptive infrastructure in the future.

Skylar Tibbits is a TED Fellow, an artist and computational architect.