For the most part, our wood and carbon fibre objects are solid, inert, and boring lumps. They don't bend or curl. Or at least, they aren't supposed to. But MIT researchers have created wood and carbon fibre specially designed to be dynamic, conjuring up visions of wood furniture that self-assembles out of the flat pack or carbon fibre that morphs with the temperature.
At MIT's Self-Assembly Lab, a team of tinkerers have been 3D printing materials that morph into pre-programmable shapes with heat or water. As John Brownlee points out in Fast Company, think: bacon. Bacon curls as it cooks because the stripe of lean loses water and shrinks faster than the strip of fat. Print your own wood with grains in a certain pattern, and you can program exactly how it will curl as it dries. Normally, bending wood is labour-intensive process of steaming, soaking, or pressure-treating.
Here is the famous Eames elephant, replicated in 3D printed self-assembling wood.
Perhaps even more exciting than wood is the possibilities of 3D printing carbon fibre, a material that is used in everything from jet engines to shoes. Skylar Tibbits, the director of the Self-Assembly Lab, tells Wired UK that the morphable carbon fibre would be used in, say, car airfoils that change shape with the weather or jet engines with parts that change shape with heat.
Right now, this technology is in that early phases where the possibilities seem endless and delightful. The programmable wood and carbon fibre aren't coming to a store near you soon, but it's fun to think about what they might be when they do. [MIT Self-Assembly Lab via Fast Company, Wired UK]