4-D Smart Buildings

MIT's Skylar Tibbits at his recent TED talk. Image Source: Stratasys.

In February 2013, Millennial architect Skylar Tibbets announced that he is combining building design with our increasingly minute scale of understanding of the physical world through genetics and nanotechnology. Tibbits and his colleagues plan to replace traditional construction practices with "people, machines and materials that collaborate," through organic programming and 3-D printing. Structures will build and rebuild themselves over time, hence making the tech '4-D.' These designs are pre-programmed on the nano-scale to remodel themselves while drawing energy from the environment. BBC reports:
The way we build our structures has become more and more sophisticated. But the materials we build them from are static, waiting for us to fit them to the required shape.

What if they could assemble themselves – and even change form if they needed to? The emerging technology of 4D printing – where 3D-printed material changes shape over time – means we may be able to build things that can adapt to our use or the environment around them, says MIT’s Skylar Tibbits.

Tibbits believes this technology could lead to more resilient, lighter structures – ones which can respond to the world around them.
There is some talk about using 4-D printing in space exploration, although that will depend on how the building materials function in space. WebProNews reports that this future construction revolution depends on new materials and how they react to water:
Stratasys says that it’s heavily invested in the future of 4D printing. It’s currently researching a new type of material for 3D printers that can self assemble after being printed. Here are the details from the Stratasys blog:
What makes the transformation and self-assembly possible is the breakthrough development of a new material used in multi-material 3D printing by Stratasys Objet Connex 3D Printers. The self-folding material is actually composed of two base materials – one that is water expandable and the second that is not water expandable. The water expandable material, which is still in the R&D phase, is able to absorb water and to be programmed to behave and transform in a specific way. It is a highly hydrophilic material that absorbs water molecules when immersed and can change its volume by more than 150% relative to its dry state. When this material is coupled with the static material it can drive predictable shape transformation of the multi-material 3D printed object. Both materials are printed simultaneously on a Stratasys Objet Connex 3D Printer.
Research into 4D printing is only just getting started, but Tibbits already has some ideas on how 4D printing can benefit certain industries in the short term. The big one is space exploration as self-assembly could help NASA and other space agencies reduce costs by simply sending the parts into space, and then those parts self-assemble into an object at the desired location.
See a TED talk with Tibbits explaining his architectural 4-D tech below the jump.
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