Extra dimensions: 4D printing?

This is an interesting video about how 4D printing is now being developed to create structures that build themselves under certain conditions (just add water? Really?)

But Rob, you say, it’s like 3D printers just came out. Now they’re talking about 4D? What gives?

Let’s not forget that I said before in Manufacturing Comes Home that 3D printers have actually been in use since the early 1980’s and have until recently served as rapid prototyping machines for engineering. At this point the technology is beginning to hit prime time on the consumer market, and so it’s completely natural that – given the pace of technological development as some variant of Moore’s Law – they’re talking about the next best thing; since we have TED and YouTube, it’s only natural that the geek world begins to buzz when something this new and revolutionary is proposed. But how revolutionary is it? After all, we are adding an extra dimension to printing, it’s like last year we were worried about the price of ink cartridges and whether we really need wireless printing; now we’re thinking about whether we would actually do something useful with 3D printing, which should factor into our purchasing decision; how does the time dimension factor into this?

I’m not completely convinced that there’s a killer app here just yet; they’re talking about sending this thing down into the ocean or up into space, and letting it build itself, but so far it has no impact on the amount of raw material you have to get to “point zero”, so where is the benefit? What I’m more likely to believe in is the application to smart materials mentioned toward the end of the video, because the examples displayed of 4D printing seem more suited to developing smart materials; what I really see with those folding strands is bacteria, DNA, folding proteins. Is this a coincidence, or is there some application on the horizon – as yet unseen – in medical and biological science for the concepts explored by this 4D printer movement? How about synthetic blood? Replacement genes? Treatments for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s? Synthetic meat? Oh yeah I did say that!

What are your thoughts on 4D printing? Is there something to it, or are we just overreaching? Is it going to be the end of matter as we know it? Leave your comments, questions, and thoughts below; and as always feel free to follow us on one or more of the social media outlets on the top of the sidebar to the right.

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