It looks like something out of a dream, and it could be the future of manufacturing.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have created a process that allows plastic printed with a cheap 3D printer to fold itself into predetermined shapes with the application of heat.
The complexity of the origami-like shapes being produced in the Morphing Matter Lab even in early tests gives researchers hope that the material may one day be used produce flat-pack products that can be assembled quickly with a heat gun.
Leading the research is Lining Yao, assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and director of the Morphing Matter Lab, which studies next-gen materials. Professor Yao has suggested the material could be used to build emergency shelters that can pop into form with the warmth of the sun.
Self-folding systems are a big research focus in materials science right now, as we've covered before. But previous efforts have focused on materials produced using complex techniques available only in grad labs.
The self-folding properties of the material Yao's team is working with, however, will be familiar to anyone who's had the frustrating experience of operating a cheap 3D printer.
The CMU team used an FDM printer, which is about as bottom-barrel as they come. One problem with fused filament fabrication is that the fuse points typically have variable densities in the final printed structure. As a result, those points are prone to warp under stress, such as