What? A 4D printer?

We just started learning the amazing things that can be done with 3D printing, and now reseachers of the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT are presenting a 4D-printer. A what? Skylar Tibbits recently presented a new concept at TED2013: 4D printing – where materials can be reprogrammed to self-assemble into new structures. As an architect, designer and computer scientist, his research currently focuses on developing self-assembly technologies for large-scale structures in the physical environment.

The process is sort of reminiscent of those toys that expand when you drop them in water. First, the printer creates a long string of materials. Then you put the string in water. At that point, the string of materials can fold into various shapes based on how the materials are placed. The resulting examples we've seen so far are simple--a cube or the letters "MIT". It's a long way from a building making itself, but it's a fun thought: laying down a skyscraper and watching it bend toward the sky... 

Have a look at this incredible video showing a 4D printed model that fold itself into an assembled shape all by itself when placed in water: 4D Printing: Cube Self-Folding Strand.