Scientists have created a pair of “4D-printed” unfurling structures that could pave the way for innovations in biomedical devices and space exploration, where payloads can cost a fortune.
A team of researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology crafted these objects also known as tensegrity structures using a structural system of floating rods in compression and cables in continuous tension.
The major price tag for launching stuff into space has encouraged a method that uses 3D printers to create small structures that expand when exposed to heat. The researchers crafted the rods and cables called struts from shape memory polymers that unfold when heated.
The method is a form of what the scientific community calls 4D-printing – in which a 3D-printing structure changes shape after a print. In the video below you can watch the 4D-printed active tensegrity structure transform when emerged in hot water.
The 4D-printed creation depends on temperature changes for its transformation. The goal is to find a way to deploy a large object that initially takes up little space. The systems are light, strong and easily collapsed making them ideal for space travel.
The memory component is built into the polymers that are held together by the cables. All the memory is printed on the struts – memory here also implies that the structures will be able to return to their former state time and again.
However, the material is currently wearing down with multiple transitions and the team is working on fixing it and scaling these systems up.
They’re still far from building things big enough to house a human, but the manufacturing technologies using active materials could eventually be used on a wide range of devices from space structures and robotics to biomedical needs.
Video Credit: Georgia Tech