4D Printing
Kyle Maxey posted on October 03, 2013 |
US Army to fund research into reprogrammable, self-assembling structures

4d printing, 3d printing, us army, material, camoflage, fabric, soldier, material, militaryEarlier this year MIT researcher Skylar Tibbits made news when he unveiled his 4D printing technique. The technique uses a 3D printer to create objects whose materials can be programmed to assemble into new structures.  It’s now gaining a wide audience, particularly in military circles.

The US Army has awarded an $855,000 grant to develop 4D printing technology with the aim of creating a material that can alter the structure of a fabric, essentially creating adaptive camouflaged uniforms.  

To help develop this technology more rapidly the Army has awarded its grant to a trio of research groups at the University of Pittsburg, Harvard, and the University of Illinois.

According to U. Pitt professor and principal investigator Anna Balazs, “Rather than construct a static material or one that simply changes its shape, we’re proposing the development of adaptive, biomimetic composites that reprogram their shape, properties, or functionality on demand, based upon external stimuli.”

While Balazs qualifier “external stimuli” might be a bit vague, Harvard Ralph Nuzzo clarified what type of stimuli his team will be looking to leverage in their research. “‘The ability to create one fabric that responds to light by changing its color, and to temperature by altering its permeability, and even to an external force by hardening its structure, becomes possible through the creation of responsive materials that are simultaneously adaptive, flexible, lightweight, and strong,’

But key to all of these radical concepts is 3D printing. With 3D printing a fabric no longer has to have static properties. Reactive materials can be printed into specific positions on a fabric, tailoring functionality into the material itself.

Given the advanced nature of this research it’s anyone’s guess for when they’ll be available. However, once the first adaptive camouflage material is created, don’t be surprised if the military, advertisers, artists and others start plastering it on everything they see.

Images Courtesy of MIT 

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