Engineers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science have created a 4D printer. That doesn’t mean the printer outputs objects into the space-time continuum. Instead, it means they are building objects that can change based on the physics of the materials used. By extruding objects in multiple materials, for example, you can build a valve that shuts down when hot water hits it or a working mechanism that is printed in one piece.
“So, as in 3D printing, a structure is built up layer by layer into the desired shape, but these new materials are able to transform themselves from one shape into another, much like a child’s Transformer toy,” wrote the team in a release.
These objects are essentially mechanisms that are printed as one continuous process. Just as you can lay conductive parts inside of a 3D printed object, these new printers lay down filaments that are heat-sensitive, pressure-sensitive, and that can even move over time.
“The cool thing about it is, is it’s a working functioning device that you just pick up from the printer,” said ACES Professor Marc in het Panhuis. “There’s no other assembly required.”
The researchers expect these printers to usher in a new age of “soft” robotics that can move by inflating or deflating rubber parts or mimicking biological organisms.