A research team from MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab has developed a range of 3D printed materials that can morph into pre-programmable shapes with heat or water.

The technique takes the existing fibres, sheets and strands that make up materials such as wood, fabric, plastics and carbon fibre and programs them to change shape and property on demand using 3D printing technology.

The designers are referring to the technique as "4D printing", with the extra ‘D’ standing for the ability of the 3D printed materials to be “dynamic” in the way they self-transform.

Teaming up with Carbitex, a maker of flexible carbon fibre materials, the Self-Assembly Labs have worked out how to 4-D print light, super-strong carbon fibre sheets in such a way that they curl and flatten in response to heat.

The resulting material could be used in endless applications, but will most benefit industries where there is a need for products with strength, lightness, and flexibility.

Wood filaments can also be produced using the 4D printing technique and can be programmed to dry and morph into customised formations.

Again, the applications appear infinite, with the Self-Assembly Lab already in discussions with one furniture company over the idea of self-assembling wood flat pack.

The technology is still in a very early stage but videos released by the lab demonstrate some of the advances that have been made so far.

Videos: Skylar Tibbits, MIT Self-Assembly Lab

Courtesy Fast Company