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Watch the future of manufacturing emerge from a giant vat of gel

The future of manufacturing is truly wild.

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Take 4D printing, an emerging technology being pioneered at MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab. As its creators described to Fast Company last week, the “4D” refers to the fourth dimension–time–and describes objects that adapt or self-assemble when exposed to particular environmental conditions, like heat or air. The Self-Assembly Lab is inventing entirely new ways to create this new generation of objects, including Rapid Liquid Printing, where an object is printed inside a vat of gel, allowing designers to rapidly print flexible, complex shapes.

A video of the process gives us our closest look at the process, which feels straight out of Westworld‘s title sequence as Fast Company’s Aileen Kwun pointed out in her deep dive into the project. But instead of printing android tissue to make humans and animals, the Self-Assembly Lab is starting with something much simpler: Inflatable home goods, for instance, and tote bags.

One video shows how liquid printing let the lab manufacture inflatable stretchy vases and lamps for its new exhibition at Patrick Parrish Gallery. While another shows the process of printing a tote bag:

What you’re seeing here is the process of solidifying the gel as the printer head interacts with it chemically. It allows designers to print much more complex shapes than a conventional 3D printer would, because each line is supported by the gel matrix without the foundation of the previous “solid” layer.

[Image: MIT/Self-Assembly Lab]

These objects were created by Swiss designer Christoph Guberan, but it’s not hard to imagine the complex products and materials that this new technology could enable. Read more about the project in Fast Company‘s recent story.

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