We recently wrote about 3D printed objects created at MIT that are able to change shapes under the influence of magnetism. MIT is at it again, this time in conjunction with automaker BMW, creating 3D-printed inflatable materials that can self-transform and morph into different states.
MIT’s Self-Assembly Laboratory and the BMW Design Department have been working on the project for two years. BMW was looking for futuristic vehicle interior concepts, and the researchers have come up with a silicone material that will change shape depending on the amount of air pressure present. Pneumatic controls allow the printed structure to take on different shapes, stiffness characteristics and functions.
The solution incorporates rapid liquid printing, soft robotics techniques and other technologies to create complex inflatable structures with tunable stiffness.
“The outcome of this collaboration manifests that a new material future is imminent,” said Martina Starke, head of BMW Brand Vision and BMW Brand Design at BMW Group. “There is no need to lock the car of the future into any particular shape. Interiors could even take on malleable, modular uses.”
MIT has been working on ways to 3D print inflatable objects for several years. Researchers there created the “Printflatables” system for creating human-scale, functional inflatable objects.
In 2014, the Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Design created 3D-printed flowers from a soft rubber material that could be inflated.
BMW and MIT exhibited a meter-scale object at the Victoria & Albert Museum that could perform transformations thanks to a pneumatic system with seven independent chambers. “This adaptive material technology points towards a future of transformable surfaces for adaptive human comfort, cushioning and impact performance,” Starke said.