Recently, a 3D printing website reported that 3D printing is already starting to evolve into something 3D printing aficionados have wondered about: 4D printing. If you think 4D printing is impossible, it's really not out of the realms of becoming reality very soon. However, while it sounds like something completely different, it's still 3D printing, only with a sophisticated twist.
The difference is items printed off a 3D printer would be embedded with special coding so they can conform to different shapes to accommodate specific situations. This is already being developed at MIT through an architect by the name of Skylar Tibbits who leads a new program there on the advent of 4D printing.
Recently, they've developed some working prototypes for how 4D printing might work. And they're working with 3D company Stratasys so the integration with 3D printing equipment can be a smooth one.
What they're working on will amaze you in what the potentials are. Their first priority is developing 4D water pipes that can shape-shift to accommodate water flow rates and to help prevent issues from arising during natural disasters. This alone is something that could help cities on monumental levels, especially with aging water lines being an emerging issue.
Where else could 4D printing take us, though? It's almost as overwhelming in scope as 3D printing has been alone.
The Possibilities in the Military and Beyond
Reports are the military is already wanting to look into 4D printing and the possibilities of providing programmable materials. Having shape-shifting materials on military equipment could change the ballgame in how warfare is conducted. Regardless, 3D printing alone is recently producing parts for military jets and equipment that couldn't be done before while providing superior efficiency.
The fact that 4D printed materials can nearly act under its own accord during specific situations is mind-blowing in how it could change the functioning of everything. If it's truly implemented within a decade as some think it will be, every product we buy can be designed to be more efficient or adapt to certain weather.
This already provides efficiency for the consumer who will benefit just as much as the companies selling 4D printed items.
Yet, before 4D printing becomes mainstream, 3D printing still needs to be analyzed on its own quickly evolving developments. You can call 4D printing the next evolutionary step, even if a 4D title might confuse people on what it exactly means. Perhaps Programmable 3D Objects would be more suitable to help people visualize what the future might really look like.